UK Freedom of Information E-news - August 2011

  1. Consultation on Open Data launched
  2. FOIA aspects in the Localism Bill
  3. FOI requests on Twitter

1. Consultation on Open Data launched

The Cabinet Office has today launched a consultation on the government’s Open Data initiative which introduces a new requirement that all public bodies and providers of public services proactively publish data about the services they deliver. The presumption is that data about public services will be Open Data. Some data may be charged for. The government is now asking about the tests which should be applied when deciding to make a dataset available.

The proposals have FOIA implications, for example, whether current fees regulations and cost limits should be amended. However, it is not always clear as to what public service data is, as some public service data is held by non-government or quasi government service providers and thus not subject to the FOIA. Also, if proactive publication of datasets were mandatory, should a public service provider be able to refuse to publish certain datasets on the grounds of cost?

An independent review of privacy and transparency by Dr Kieron O’Hara of Southampton University is due to be published later this summer. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham said: “I welcome this further initiative towards greater accountability and transparency. The Information Commissioner’s Office stands for openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. The information rights regime needs to adapt to the new realities of the digital world, both the demands and the possibilities. We have been working with the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice and will be responding to the consultation.”

The deadline for responses is 27 October 2011. The consultation will be followed by a White Paper to firm up the proposals.

2. FOIA aspects in the Localism Bill

Before Parliament started its summer recess, the Campaign for Freedom of Information put forward proposals that were tabled by Lord Wills, the former Labour FOI minister. The proposals sought to amend the Localism Bill to

- Ensure that future contracts entered into by local authorities would include a ‘freedom of information’ provision.

- Bring companies that are 50% or more owned by local authorities within the scope of the FOI Act.

- Require local authorities to publish annual statistics on their compliance with the FOI Act.

The Minister, Baroness Hanham, responded: “We do not believe that it is necessary to extend the Freedom of Information Act to those bodies at present with information about contracts with public authorities, which can be requested from them. A local authority can be quizzed about any contract that it has and we are proactively publishing contractual information online.

She supported the proposal of openness regarding meetings of local authority executives.

3. FOI requests on Twitter

The ICO has recently advised public authorities how to deal with FOI requests that come through Twitter. The advice is that “while Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests, this does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid. They can be valid requests in freedom of information terms and authorities that have Twitter accounts should plan for the possibility of receiving them.”

The ICO says, however, that the requester must give their real name and an address 'for correspondence'. The ICO suggests that organisations could ask the requester for an email address in order to provide a full response.

Further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter.

Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2011