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Saturday, March 27, 1999 Published at 00:25 GMT

UK Politics

Internet in copyright shake-up

Direct access is part of Labour's pledge of "open government"

The government is taking advantage of the increasing popularity of the Internet to spread the message of open government.

Cabinet Office Minister Jack Cunningham, better known as Tony Blair's enforcer, has eased copyright restrictions on large amounts of government information.

He said the Internet had opened up a whole new frontier for delivering information.

The changes will allow statistics and official details to become available to ordinary UK citizens.

The material will also be invaluable to the media and businesses.

Invaluable resource

[ image: Jack Cunningham:
Jack Cunningham: "Breaking down information barriers"
Mr Cunningham said: "The government has seized the opportunities offered by information and communication technology to provide access to as wide an audience as possible.

"Breaking down information barriers is vital to enable us all to play an active role in society."

But a White Paper published on Friday said documents which could threaten national security or give personal information about individuals would remain secret.

There will also be strict controls on blank security documents which could be used fraudulently.

The government already publishes a vast amount of information on the Web at

Welcomed by campaigners

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the news and particularly the Information Asset Register, which will offer a single point of entry into all publicly available information held by government departments.

But it said it had concerns about proposals to charge for information which was considered "tradeable".

Campaign spokesman, Andrew Ecclestone, said: "If there is to be commercial exploitation of information gathered at taxpayers' expense, there has to be differential charging to ensure non-commercial users can afford access.

He said he feared some resources, such as the Statute Law Database, which catalogues all existing law for England and Wales, might no longer be free of charge to users.

Still no Freedom of Information Act

"It would be absolutely outrageous if people did not have free access to the law," said Mr Ecclestone.

The White Paper is part of Labour's commitment to "open government".

But the government has attracted cricitims for failing to produce a Freedom of Information Act, which would enshrine individuals' rights to view facts held by official bodies.

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