Freedom of Information news, Issue 12
1. Extending FOI to private bodies being considered, says Falconer
The Government is currently studying which private bodies that have public functions should be included in the FOI regime.
“Before looking at extending coverage of the legislation to private bodies, we needed to learn the lessons of FOI in the 100,000 public bodies currently covered in the first year. We need to allow FOI to bed in while public authorities develop an efficient way of operating under what is an entirely new regime,” Falconer said in a seminar organised by the National Archives and British Academy on 11th February.
“We are looking right now at how exactly we will do this. The sort of private bodies we're likely to extend to are privately run prisons and school academies - which should be subject to the same principles of openness and transparency that applies to the thousands of other public authorities covered by FOI.”
Falconer promised that extending the scope of the Act would not have a disproportionate impact on the ability of those bodies to carry out their functions.
2. DCA advises on FOI requests and procurement
The Department of Constitutional Affairs, DCA, has published working assumptions on how organisations can deal with FOI requests at different phases of procurement processes. While the assumptions cannot be taken as absolute rules, they provide a useful guide. Similar working assumptions have been published for several categories of information, including planning, policy advice and reviews of acquisition programmes and procurement projects in central government carried out by the Office of Government Commerce.
3. New guidance on means of communication
The ICO has published guidance about means of communication to FOI applicants. The ICO advises that, if requested, information may have to be provided electronically, either as a document, video or audio tape. If the applicant requests the information to be provided verbally, public authorities should record the conversations. The applicant must state their preferred method of receiving the information at the time when the request is being made. If the requested information is already included in a publication scheme, the authority is not obliged to provide it in another form.
The guidance is available at www.ico.org.uk (awareness guidance 29).
4. Information Commissioner orders disclosure of Ryanair and airport agreement
The Information Commissioner has ordered Derry City Airport to disclose information on Ryanair’s use of the airport, and how much the airline pays to use airport facilities. The airport had refused to release the information on the basis of prejudice to the economic interests of the region, and commercial interests of the airport and Ryanair.
The full decision notice is available at www.ico.org.uk
5. Tribunal decision on prejudice to commercial interest
The recent Information Tribunal decision that deals with prejudice to commercial interest suggests that in order to benefit from this exemption, there must be a real or significant risk, not merely a potential one. In this case concerning the Maritime Museum, the Tribunal took a view that the potential risk to the museum’s commercial interests was not sufficient to justify an exemption.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, ICO, had concluded that the financial information requested fell under Section 43(2), an exemption that applies to information that ‘would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interest of any person’, and that the public interest in maintaining that exemption overrode the public interest in disclosing the information.
Despite the Tribunal’s differing view, the ICO decision was not formally overturned, as the information requested had, in fact, been released before the hearing.
6. New Information Rights Qualification
A new postgraduate Information Rights Qualification, which incorporates FOI, data protection and records management, will be launched in September 2006 by University of Northumbria and the Department of Constitutional Affairs. The distance learning course is offered at three different levels - certificate, diploma and Master of Laws degree.
For more information, contact the Programme Administrator at Northumbria University, Tel: 0191 2274494.
For further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter, please click here.
Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2006