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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 22 to 26 January 2018

The FOI right covers information recorded in any form, not just in official documents and reports. Emails, minutes, notes and spreadsheets are all covered by FOI, as is information in audio or video recordings. This week's Round-up considers a request for video footage, while also finding that, in some cases, personal data from such footage can be disclosed…

Learning points:

 

  • Recorded information comes in many forms…
    Freedom of information law gives a right to access "recorded" information from public bodies. The right doesn't just cover information that is written down - it will apply to information recorded in any way. So, as well as covering information in documents, emails, spreadsheets, etc., it also applies to information in things like video and audio recordings. Be aware, however, that this type of information will often contain personal data, so it may be that it can be legitimately withheld (Decision 007/2018).

 

  • …but personal data can sometimes be disclosed
    It's important to note, however, that personal data isn't automatically exempt under FOI, and authorities must carefully apply the relevant tests. In Decision 007/2018, we ordered an authority to disclose the video recording of a meeting. Although the video was the personal data of the people in the recording, it could be disclosed: it dealt with their public, rather than private, lives; it was a public meeting and the individuals had already been identified in the published minute of the meeting.

 

  • If circumstances change - disclose the information
    Decision 005/2018 finds that an authority was correct to withhold information when it responded to a request, even though it disclosed the information during our investigation. The authority was able to show that circumstances had changed, and there was no longer a reason to withhold the information. Where this happens, it's good practice to disclose information to the requester as quickly as possible.

 

  • Take care with the technicalities
    Where an information request meets all the requirements set out in FOI legislation (e.g. it is a request for recorded information; the requester has given their name and an address for correspondence) then the authority must respond to the request under FOI. Confusion may arise where the requester has asked for their own personal data, which is exempt under FOI but can be provided under Data Protection legislation. The authority should give a refusal notice under FOI, alongside any response under data protection law (Decision 009/2018).

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 005/2018 James McWilliam and Aberdeenshire Council
    Mr McWilliam asked for correspondence about a former quarry site. The Council withheld some information, explaining that an investigation about potential planning control breaches was underway.

    During our investigation, the situation changed and the Council disclosed the information in full. We were satisfied that the Council was correct to withhold the information when it responded to the request.

 

  • Decision 006/2018 William Dempster and Scottish Water
    Mr Dempster asked for correspondence to and from named persons about a new sewage treatment plant. Scottish Water disclosed some information and withheld the remainder. During our investigation, they disclosed this information too.

    We were satisfied that Scottish Water had disclosed all relevant information, but found that this should have been done when responding to the request.

 

  • Decision 007/2018 Scone & District Community Council and Perth and Kinross Council
    The request was for the recording of a Committee meeting at which a planning application was considered. The Council refused to provide the recording, arguing that disclosure would breach the data protection principles.

    We did not accept this argument, and required the Council to disclose the information.

 

  • Decision 008/2018 Stephen Sloper and Falkirk Council
    The Council was asked about planning issues and work carried out at a specified site. The Council said it had provided all the information it held, either by disclosing it or making it available to view at Council premises.

    After investigation, we accepted that the searches carried out by the Council were likely to have identified all relevant information it held, and that adequate advice and assistance had been provided.

 

  • Decision 009/2018 Mr B and Aberdeenshire Council
    Mr B asked for information relating to a complaint and (if the Council no longer held the information) for details of its destruction. The Council provided some information under the Data Protection Act 1998 and said it did not hold other information.

    We found that the Council failed to respond to the request in terms of FOI law, but accepted that it did not hold some of the information Mr B had asked for.

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