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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 20 to 24 October 2014

We published four decisions between 20 and 24 October.  Read the learning points below.

 

Key messages:

 

  • You need to respond to all requests - except in very limited circumstances
    Decision 221/2014 considers how authorities should respond to requests they believe are vexatious - especially if an earlier request from the same requester has already been found to be so. You don't have to respond to a request if you have already notified the requester, in response to a previous identical or substantially similar request, that you considered the previous request to be vexatious.

    If you receive a request for review, you don't have to carry out a review, but you must tell the requester that you're not going to carry out a review and tell the requester about their right to appeal to the Commissioner.

 

  • Personal data can't always be anonymised
    If you receive a request for personal data, and disclosing it would breach one of the data protection principles, you might still be able to disclose it in an anonymised form, as long as you're satisfied that others won't be able to identify the data subject from the anonymised version. The (UK) Information Commissioner's anonymisation code of practice contains useful guidance on how to anonymise personal data in order to reduce the risk of people being identified.

    In Decision 222/2014, a company asked for information involving a decision about a named child. As the company knew the identity of the child, the authority couldn't disclose the information, even in an "anonymised" form.

 

  • The public interest and the "neither confirm nor deny" (NCND) provision
    Decision 223/2014 is a good example of where the NCND provision in the FOI Act was used appropriately by an authority. If you want to use this provision, remember you need to be sure that the information is exempt under one of the exemptions listed in section 18(2) of the FOI Act.

    If the exemption is subject to the public interest test, you need to think about the public interest twice. First, when deciding if the exemption applies, you need to be satisfied that the public interest in disclosing the information, if held, would be outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption. Second, you need to be able to demonstrate that revealing whether or not the information exists would be contrary to the public interest.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 220/2014Decision 220/2014 Greg Christison and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Christison made four information requests to the Ministers. These included the costs of entertainment at Bute House and correspondence about television debates. Apart from sending an acknowledgement, the Ministers did not respond to Mr Christison's requests until after the Commissioner became involved. This was a clear breach of the timescales in the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 221/2014 Allan Milligan and Glasgow City Council
    The Council believed it didn't have to reply to Mr Milligan's request or request for review because it considered the request to be vexatious. The Council referred to a 2011 decision from the Commissioner which found a request from Mr Milligan to be vexatious. If a request is identical or substantially similar to a previous request (and an authority notified the requester that the earlier request was vexatious), the public authority does not have to respond. In this case, we concluded that the request was not identical or similar to the previous request made by Mr Milligan and that the Council should have replied.

 

  • Decision 222/2014 Sidlaw Executive Travel (Scotland) Ltd (SETS) and Dundee City Council
    SETS wanted to know why the Council had changed the transport arrangements for a named child. The Council refused to disclose the information, on the basis that it could not be disclosed without identifying the child (and breaching the child's rights under the Data Protection Act). We agreed. We also found that, given that SETS knew the identity of the child, the information could not be anonymised so that the child could not be identified.

 

  • Decision 223/2014  Mr E and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Mr E asked the Police for details about investigations he believed the Police had undertaken. The Police refused to confirm or deny whether they held any information about the investigations. We found they were entitled to do this. Disclosing information in response to an FOI request puts information into the public domain. Confirming whether or not they held the requested information would reveal whether or not the Police had carried out the investigations, which would have deterred other members of the public from reporting matters to them and jeopardised their ability to carry out criminal investigations.

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