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1 What is - Freedom of Information Allan Graham- Information Compliance Officer.

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Presentation on theme: "1 What is - Freedom of Information Allan Graham- Information Compliance Officer."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 What is - Freedom of Information Allan Graham- Information Compliance Officer

2 2 Session Aim èExplain what is Freedom of Information (FOI) key features of FOI what it does what other legislation it interfaces with èGive you some practical tips on compliance èAnswer your questions

3 3 FOI - key features èFOI has been in force since 1st January 2005 èFOI is about improving citizens’ access to information held by organisations that they deal with every day èIt gives citizens the right to access all recorded information held by public authorities: èIt does not matter how old the information is èIt does not matter what format it is held in

4 4 FOI - key features èGeneral right of access to: - manual records and computer documents - s - plans and photographs - videos and tape recordings

5 5 FOI - key features èThe Public Authority must produce a publication scheme setting out the classes of information it routinely publishes èThe publication scheme (first line of response) must specify: - the classes of information the authority publishes - how information in each class published/available - Internet, Library and/or Offices - whether there is a payment for the information

6 6 FOI - key features èIn particular, the public authority should publish: - information about the provision of services, including costs and performance standards - facts and analysis which have been used to make decisions of importance to the public èIf the information is not available via the scheme it becomes an FOI request

7 7 FOI - key features èThe request must be submitted in a permanent form ( /letter/FOI/EIR request form) èThe public authority has 20 working days to answer any request for information èThe authority does not have to comply if the request is vexatious (what does this mean!!)

8 8 FOI - key features èAn authority is not required to charge for information but can do so - summary fees regulations: any request less than £100 - free of charge any request between £100 and £ % charge upper limit set at £600 (therefore maximum recovery £50) authorities will not need to respond to requests exceeding upper cost threshold maximum charge is £15 per hour authorities can recover full marginal costs in excess of £600 - but don’t forget section 15 of the Act section 15 - advice & assistance to applicants, plus provide information in most cost effective manner

9 9 FOI - key features èAre there exemptions? - Yes - two categories, absolute and non-absolute èAbsolute - public authority does not need to consider public interest test (otherwise public interest test applies) èAbsolute exemptions: - information otherwise accessible - prohibitions on disclosure - confidential information obtained from another person - court records - disclosure would breach the data protection act

10 10 FOI - key features èThe applicant has a right of appeal: è (1) The public authority (applicant must appeal here first) è(2) The Scottish Information Commissioner èAct also underpinned by codes of practice: - section 60 - discharge of functions by public authorities under The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) - section 61 - records management

11 11 FOI & E I R (Scotland) 2004 interface Environmental Information Regulations (Scotland) 2004 èEffective from 1 January 2005 (closely aligned with FOISA) èRequests can be made orally (but should be committed to a permanent form) èAccess to Information in written, visual, audio taped or database form on environmental matters

12 12 FOI & E I R (Scotland) 2004 interface èResponse within 20 working days (can extend to 40) èUnlike FOI no formal fee structure, but the public authority can charge a reasonable fee for access èExemptions fall into two categories: - “to the extent that certain circumstances exist” and - “which may cause substantial prejudice” èSame public interest test as FOISA

13 13 Data Protection Act 1998 èIt applies to “personal data” that is information about a living individual èIt applies to automated information or that held on filing systems structured by reference to the data subject èThere are more stringent rules for some types of data known as sensitive data èThose who process personal data are called data controllers

14 14 Interface FOISA and DPA – subject access èWhere an individual asks for access to personal data about him or herself the request does not come under the FOISA. èIt is covered by an exemption from the FOISA. èIf the authority is sure of the identity of the applicant it should be treated as an application for subject access under the DPA

15 15 Interface FOISA and DPA – third party access requests èWhere a third party asks for access to information about another person it is an access request under the FOISA. èThe information may be withheld if it falls under any of the FOI exemptions. In particular, consider exemptions for: - breach of the data protection act - health records of those who are deceased - census information in the last 100 years

16 16 Some practical tips? èGet Chief Executive support/buy in or you are doomed to failure èPromote FOI as a positive thing: seize it as opportunity to re-engineer your business processes and customer relations put as much information as possible in the public domain change to a more open and transparent culture (expect resistance) and don’t forget if you can’t manage your information you are certainly not managing your business èStirling Council don’t charge (not worth the hassle) but reserve the right to do so

17 17 Some practical tips? èPromote records management (produce policy and retention schedules) - it could be your salvation èAppoint 4 wise people: - FOI officer (not some insignificant creature) - Records Manager (worth their weight in gold) - Independent appeals officer (someone with real clout and who knows where the skeletons are buried) - Adopt a Lawyer (you may need one - a necessary evil) èPromote awareness (next 4 slides illustrate Stirling Council’s approach)

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22 22 èIn the words of Winston Churchill: I say to the seminar as I said to colleagues, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage compliance on the phone, at the reception desk and on the Internet. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in two words. Total compliance.

23 23 Allan Graham


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