Freedom of Information news, Issue 16
1. ICO orders the release of a secret report on ID cards
The Information Commissioner has ordered, based on the public interest argument, the government to release a secret report detailing the costs, benefits and risks of introducing ID cards.
The original request was made by the Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten in 2004 to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which refused his request to release an ID cards feasibility report.
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas said: "There is clearly also a strong public interest in the public knowing whether the introduction of identity cards will bring benefits to the DWP, and to other government departments, and if so what those benefits will be... It will allow the public to make a more accurate assessment of whether the significant costs of the scheme are justified by the benefits it is likely to deliver in areas such as the prevention of benefit fraud."
2. ICO fails to comply with FOIA
The Information Commissioner was forced, on 5th June, to issued a Decision Notice on himself following a complaint by Friends of the Earth Rights & Justice Centre. The request, which sought information about letters from the Department of Trade and Industry to the ICO, was declined by the ICO. Friends of the Earth asked for an internal review, but was turned down again.
The ICO now acknowledges that it was in breach of both the requirements of FOIA and the Code of Practice on the discharge of public authorities’ functions under FOIA.
Phil Michaels, Friends of the Earth Head of Legal said: “The ICO’s failure in cases such as this makes it increasingly difficult for it to carry out its enforcement function with any credibility. In addition, the basis on which the ICO are refusing to release the requested letters is highly questionable and we will be taking it to the Information Tribunal. It is time for the ICO to get its house in order.”
3. ICO decision protects personal data under FOI
The ICO ruled on 31st May that the Worcestershire County Council was right to refuse the disclosure of third party personal information under the Freedom of Information Act. The personal data in question related to the treatment and care of the requester’s mother. The ICO agreed with the Council that releasing the information would breach the Data Protection Act, as the mother had not consented to having her personal information released.
David Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner, said: “It’s a common, but misplaced belief that personal information about a third party should never be released in response to a freedom of information request. However, a public authority must take proper account of any intrusion into the third party’s privacy. There is a balance to be struck between privacy and openness and this case is a good example of where that balance comes down in favour of privacy.”
4. ICO announces more robust case handling and enforcement methods
The ICO will start to prioritise FOI complaints cases. It will not issue Decision Notices in cases that are unlikely to ‘produce outcomes that will promote the legislation.’ With regard to public authorities that clearly display a pattern of non-compliance, the ICO plans to increasingly use other enforcement methods than Decision Notices. These include informal or formal advice, published guidance, section 48 Practice Recommendations, or section 52 Enforcement Notices.
The ICO will also monitor its complaints database in order to identify patterns or ‘hot spots’ of non-compliance arising from a particular case.
The document was published in May 2006.
5. New ICO policy on publication schemes
The ICO’s new policy on publication schemes, issued on 14th June, is aimed to encourage public authorities to make them more effective. The new policy is a direct result of a review, which revealed that public authorities wanted the ICO to help them to clarify and develop existing schemes.
The ICO will provide clear guidance on classes of information, means of access to information, and promotion of publication schemes, and it will expect regular reviews and maintenance of the schemes. It also intends to publish sector specific Publication Scheme Packs to help authorities identify base level requirements and additional classes for inclusion.
Public authorities are requested to submit their schemes for re-approval between 1st June and 31st December 2008.
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Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2006