Why is Cabinet Office Holding Back Microsoft's ODF Emails?

Back in May, I wrote about my less-than-happy experience in putting in a Freedom of Information request to the UK Cabinet Office on the subject of ODF formats: I am writing in connection with Francis Maude's speech on 29 January 2014 in which he...

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Back in May, I wrote about my less-than-happy experience in putting in a Freedom of Information request to the UK Cabinet Office on the subject of ODF formats:

I am writing in connection with Francis Maude’s speech on 29 January 2014 in which he announced that the UK government would be adopting ODF as one of its preferred formats.

I would be grateful if you could please supply me with the following information:

What meetings, telephone or email exchanges were held with representatives of Microsoft or the Business Software Alliance at any time during the last six months that discussed document formats and/or the UK government’s new policy on open document formats?

In my post, I explained that I was still waiting for a reply to my request, well after the official deadline laid down by law. That seemed to have some effect, since shortly afterwards I received the following [.pdf]:

I must inform you that the Cabinet Office is unable to comply with your request. Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act relieves public authorities of the duty to comply with a request for information if the cost of dealing with it would exceed the appropriate limit.

Well, that’s fair enough, but this seems strange:

The reason that your request exceeds the cost limit is that relevant information to determine whether the Cabinet Office holds any information relevant to your request will exceed the appropriate limit laid down in the regulations.

So GCHQ is able to to search through the UK’s entire Internet stream to find all the vaguely bad things there, but the Cabinet Office is unable to locate a few specific emails on its own servers. Seems improbable, to say the least. However, the Cabinet Office did kindly suggest a way around this:

If you wish, you may refine your request in order to bring the cost of determining whether the Cabinet Office holds relevant information, locating, retrieving and extracting it, below the appropriate limit.

Well, that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse. Here’s my “refined” request:

Since the issue seems to be the difficulty of finding information easily, I would like to refine my request as follows to allow a rapid search:

I am writing in connection with Francis Maude’s speech on 29 January 2014 in which he announced that the UK government would be adopting ODF as one of its preferred formats.

What email exchanges were held with representatives of Microsoft at any time during the last four months that discussed the UK government’s new policy on open document formats?

I would like to obtain copies of this correspondence please, plus any documents that were sent as attachments to those emails.

Alas, since then, I’ve heard nothing apart from a basic acknowledgement that my request arrived. I have thus been forced to escalate matters, and have now formally requested an internal review:

I am writing to request formally an internal review of Cabinet Office’s handling of my FOI request ‘Open document formats’.

The response to my request is long overdue; by law, under all circumstances, the authority should have responded by now. No official explanation has been offered for this delay.

In the wake of the Cabinet Office’s foot-dragging so far, I am not expecting a speedy and/or helpful response. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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