Government ministers are using post-it notes stuck on documents that they then throw away, to avoid Freedom of Information requests. 

The Sun reports the practice is happening all across government and officials are using the sticky squares so that they don’t have to record information that is then able to be released to those making FOI requests.

The newspaper writes:

“The source, who works in one of the largest government ministries, told The Sun: ‘Post-it notes to talk about sensitive subjects are ever more common these days.

“‘Someone worked they were a clever way of avoiding any public disclosure and they swiftly caught on.'”

The idea of officials subverting the FOI process by not making proper notes is one that is often referred to as a ‘chilling effect’.

This means that officials change their behaviour because they are scared that their discussions and thoughts could be disclosed under the FOI Act. There has been little reported actual evidence of it since the Act started but mandarins have reported it happening behind closed doors.

UCL’s Constitution Unit’s FOI looked at the chilling effect during their research and said they have found “very little evidence” of it taking place.

“The main threat to effective government is that FOI might have a ‘chilling effect’, with the fear of disclosure leading to less information being communicated and recorded,” said a summary of their work.

“This in turn would have damaging effects on the quality of government decision making, as well as the quality of the official record.”

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.