The importance of the Freedom of Information act can be seen by its use to campaigners, charities and groups who are fighting for a purpose. 

Recently, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) have shown exactly why the FOI act is important for these groups.

The NSPCC completed a nationwide data collection process by sending FOIs to (it appears) all police forces in the country. They’ve then used the information collected to help bring attention to the causes they are working for.

By using a proactive press strategy and the Freedom of Information request responses they have managed to get coverage in many local/regional newspapers, for example:

By finding out the number of indecent images (although only 5 of the police forces out of 43 responded to this part of the request) and the number of arrests they have been able to put their story into the media. With this comes the chance for them to also be represented in the stories with quotes like this:

“The truly awful thing is that more and more children are being abused so these pictures can be produced and once in circulation they may stay there for many years. If we can halt this vile trade we will be saving countless children from suffering sexual assaults which have a huge impact on their lives.

If it makes one person think about child abuse and the way these pictures are produced and circulated this is another success of the FOI act. Without the act the information wouldn’t have come into the public domain and people wouldn’t have consciously thought about these issues.

The data has also been used and given to a Government Select Committee looking at child abuse and online grooming. This will have provided invaluable information, which it is likely the committee would not otherwise have had access to.

By doing so they’ve helped to influence and change the report the MPs will produce and how policies will be drafted in the future.

If this doesn’t show the importance of the FOI act for campaigners then I don’t know what does. It is worth defending and paying for just for examples such as this. There are many more cases of charities and campaigners using the act for their benefit and to help change our perspectives of things.

If you know any other examples leave them in the comments below and I’ll feature them in future posts.

To find out more about the work the NSPCC do click here. 

I am a journalist and author. I am a staff writer at the UK edition of WIRED magazine and in 2015 my book, Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. I created FOI Directory in 2012.