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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round Up: 16 to 20 September 2013

Seven decisions were published this week. 

 

Key messages:

 

  • Details of personal, non-business related, communications will not normally be accessible
    While FOI governs access to the information held by authorities, some information (such as personal emails) will only be held by the authority on behalf of an individual, and therefore won't be covered by FOI. For authorities, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between information held and "held on behalf of". In Decision 197/2013, the authority was able to support its case through the presentation of clear policies that set out the types of personal use of its systems that were appropriate.

 

  • Information which is held will not always be easily retrievable
    The fact that information is gathered for a particular purpose won't always mean that it is easily retrievable for an FOI response. In Decision 200/2013, a request for demographic data was refused because the cost of extracting the information from individual benefit claim forms would have exceeded the £600 upper limit. In such cases, of course, the authority should explore whether relevant information can be provided within this limit. In this case, advice on this was offered, but the requester did not take this offer up.

  • Tendering information will deserve greater protection where the tender is ongoing
    When dealing with a request for tendering information, whether the tendering process is "live" or not is an important factor. It is normally in the public interest to ensure that a public authority's ability to secure best value in a competitive environment is not compromised. While there may be some circumstances where the public interest may require disclosure, we supported non-disclosure in Decision 202/2013.

  • Failing to provide all the relevant information in an FOI response can lead to an unnecessary appeal
    When dealing with FOI requests or reviews, it is important to ensure that you meet all the statutory requirements for a response. Failing to do so can result in an avoidable appeal. In Decision 203/2013, the authority's response did not notify the requester of their right of appeal (as required by section 19 of the FOI Act), which led to a dissatisfied requester, and an appeal to the Commissioner.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 197/2013 - Councillor Brian McCabe and Falkirk Council
    The Commissioner agreed with the Council's conclusions that emails and texts sought by Councillor McCabe were not held for the purposes of the FOI Act, as they formed personal correspondence held only on behalf on an employee.

 

  • Decision 198/2013 - Mr David Rule and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers responded to Mr Rule's request for information regarding an independent Scotland's status within NATO by directing him to some information which was already available, and withholding the remainder under various FOI exemptions. Following investigation, we agreed that the information had appropriately been withheld under the exemption relating to the formulation of government policy. We noted that, at the time of the request, the information in question was relatively new and the policy was at an early stage of development.

  • Decision 199/2013 - Mr Ian W Baxter and Aberdeen City Council
    Mr Baxter requested information relating to the Council's "Blue Badge" scheme. While some information was provided, other information was withheld. Following investigation, we agreed that the Council had dealt with Mr Baxter's requests appropriately.

  • Decision 200/2013 - Mr Guiseppe De Santis and Aberdeen City Council
    Mr De Santis requested certain demographic information relating to housing benefit claimants. Our investigation supported the Council's response that providing the information would exceed the FOI Act's £600 upper limit.

  • Decision 201/2013 - Mr Donnie Mackenzie and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    The Police informed Mr Mackenzie that information on the use of psychological and electronic warfare by Northern Constabulary was not held, because it was not involved in any operations which used these methods. Following investigation, we agreed.

  • Decision 202/2013 - Oyne Community Association (OCA) and Aberdeenshire Council
    OCA requested information about a former visitor attraction. Some information was disclosed, with the remainder withheld under the FOI exemption protecting commercial interests. Following OCA's appeal, further information was disclosed. We accepted that the remainder of the withheld information was exempt from disclosure.

  • Decision 203/2013 - Mr F and the University of Dundee
    Mr F requested information relating to the University's policy on the provision of external consultancy services by its staff. He then appealed following his dissatisfaction with aspects of the University's handling of his request. We found that the University had failed to comply with the FOI Act in relation to certain aspects of its response.

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