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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 18 to 22 November 2013

 Seven decisions were published this week

 

Key messages:

 

  • Strong and justifiable reasons are needed for an individual’s personal data
    As highlighted in Decision 252/2013, it is important in cases involving third party personal data that both requesters and authorities are able to provide reasons why the information requested should be released or withheld.   

     

  • The expectation of the data subject is important when requests are for their personal data
    Decision 254/2013 involved a request for the expenses of someone who, although a volunteer, had significant public responsibilities. We decided that the fact that he was a volunteer meant that he would reasonably expect that his expenses would not be disclosed.   

      

  • Ensure arguments for withholding information relate specifically to the information that has been requested
    The starting point when considering any exemption should always be the content of the information – does the exemption apply to all or only some of it? In Decision 249/2013 we found that the arguments put forward by the University were not detailed enough to show why all parts of the withheld information were exempt from disclosure.

      

  • Be alert to requests for information contained in other correspondence
    FOI requests don’t have to be standalone; requesters often ask for information as part of wider correspondence on other matters. As Decision 253/2013 shows, failing to identify information requests in correspondence can lead to a breach of the FOI Act. Authorities need to ensure that staff dealing with correspondence (complaints in particular) have been trained to identify information requests and know the policy and procedures for handling them. Requesters can also help authorities deal with their requests more effectively by keeping them separate from other correspondence.

      

  • Disclosure of information in response to an FOI request is a release of information into the wider public domain.
    In Decision 251/2013, although we found that the requester had good reasons for wanting the information, the fact that disclosing information under FOI is the same as making the information available to the public at large, the information should not be disclosed. 

Decisions issued:

  

  • Decision 249/2013 – Robyn Bray and Edinburgh Napier University
    Miss Bray requested information relating to the University’s partnership with Navitas (Edinburgh International College). Some information was withheld by the University on the basis that release would harm Navitas’ commercial interests. Our investigation found that it would be possible to disclosure some of the information without causing harm, so we ordered it to be disclosed.  

  

  • Decision 250/2013 – Mr Darren Rutland and the Scottish Ministers
    A technical decision, where we found that the Ministers had not responded to Mr Rutland’s information request or request for review within 20 working days.

  

  • Decision 251/2013 – Glasgow Bar Association and the Scottish Legal Aid Board
    GBA asked for papers presented at two specific SLAB Board meetings. Some of the information was withheld on the basis that disclosure would harm the effective conduct of public affairs (section 30 of the Act).  Additional information was disclosed during the investigation and we agreed that the remaining information should be withheld. 

 

  • Decision 252/2013 – Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Hutcheon asked for the First Minister’s official and personal diaries. Parts of the First Minister’s diary are already published by the Ministers.  The Ministers withheld the remaining information on the basis that it would breach data protection law. Although finely balanced, we found that the Ministers had, in this particular case, correctly withheld the information.  

  

  • Decision 253/2013 – Mr Tim Spencer and Highland Council
    In this technical decision, we found that the Council failed to respond to Mr Spencer’s request for review.

       

  • Decision 254/2013 – Mr Peter Mortimer and Glasgow City Council
    Mr Mortimer asked for details of the expenses claimed by the Chair of the Glasgow Children’s Panel. We found that the Council had been right to conclude that the information should be withheld as it was personal data and release would breach data protection law.

  

  • Decision 255/2013 – Mr Roy Mackay and Scottish Borders Council
    Another technical decision where we found that the Council had not responded to Mr Mackay’s request for review within 20 working days.

 

 

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