Climategate university promises to be more open with emails

The University of East Anglia, which was embroiled in the ‘climategate’ email scandal last year, has signed a commitment with the Information Commissioner to be much more responsive to Freedom of Information requests.

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The University of East Anglia, which was embroiled in the ‘climategate’ email scandal last year, has signed a commitment with the Information Commissioner to be much more responsive to Freedom of Information requests.

The university had come under heavy criticism from MPs after it failed to respond to FOI requests to reveal emails between its scientists.

One year ago, the emails emerged on the web, after hackers accessed the servers. The messages reportedly demonstrated that scientific data had been withheld or manipulated to support arguments that climate change was a result of human activity. But the scientists were largely exonerated from any fault in later government reviews.

The university’s signature today marks the first time the Information Commissioner has issued an undertaking for an organisation to improve FOI responses.

The Information Commissioner criticised the university for what had been its “apparent reluctance” to support FOI requests. In March, the Commons Science and Technology Committee said the university should have supported scientists in answering the requests and should have tackled any perceived culture of secrecy.

In the agreement signed today, the university’s vice chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, has promised to ensure that staff receive adequate training on the requirements of the FOI Act. The university has also committed to a review of its systems for the archive, storage and retrieval of emails.

Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, said today: “I am pleased that the University of East Anglia has already taken steps to address our concerns and am confident that they will build on this to further improve compliance.
 
He added: “This is the first occasion on which we have sought formal undertakings to secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Our tougher enforcement strategy makes it clear that public authorities will face similar action if they fall short of their responsibilities to promote openness and transparency.”

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