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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 9 to 13 December 2013

 Nine decisions were published this week.

 

Key messages:

  • Searches must be appropriate and proportionate
    In Decision 273/2013 we found that the search undertaken by an authority was inadequate, and so required further searches to be carried out. Searches should always be appropriate and proportionate to identify the relevant information held. In each case, you should ask yourself whether your search has been wide enough and, if not, think carefully about where else you should be looking.

 

  • When requesting the personal data of others, be prepared to demonstrate your interest in it
    When we consider requests for people's personal data, we have to assess whether the requester has a legitimate interest in receiving it, and balance this against the interests of the data subject. In such cases, it is extremely helpful if requesters can tell us what their legitimate interest is in the information. For an interest to be "legitimate" it must be more than mere curiosity. In Decision 278/2013 the requester did not have explain why she had a legitimate interest. This made it difficult for us to agree that one existed. We won't always be able to identify a legitimate interest without some help from the requester.

 

  • Wide-ranging requests are likely to be refused
    A request which is framed too broadly, or seeks too much information, has a much greater chance of being refused by an authority. Such requests can be refused on cost grounds (under FOI). The volume of information requested is also a factor in assessing whether a request can be refused as "vexatious" (under FOI) or for being "manifestly unreasonable" (under the EIRs). Before you send a request, think about whether you might achieve your objectives by submitting a narrower request and, if so, consider refining it. Remember that you can always contact the authority for advice about the information they hold and how they hold it.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 271/2013 - Mr Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Hutcheon requested details of the accommodation costs for the First Minister's stay at an Inverness hotel. No response was provided. This failure to respond was subject to an earlier appeal to the Commissioner (Decision 142/2013). During the course of that investigation, the Ministers responded to the request and released information to Mr Hutcheon. Mr Hutcheon made a new appeal on the basis that he considered additional information was held. Our decision concludes that no further relevant information was held by Ministers. 

 

  • Decision 272/2013 - Deborah Millar and South Lanarkshire Council
    Ms Millar asked the Council for responses it had received from parents in relation to discussions about the future of a local school. Following our investigation, we agreed with the Council that the requested information was personal data, the release of which would be in breach of data protection law.

 

  • Decision 273/2013 - Colin McLeod and Dundee City Council
    Mr McLeod asked for information about the future of a former recycling centre. The Council provided a copy of a committee report to Mr McLeod, and told him that no further information was held. Our investigation found that the Council's search for relevant information was inadequate, and we required it to carry out further searches. The Council's handling of the request in this case was particularly disappointing, given that the Council had undertaken to improve its searches in response to an earlier practice assessment.

 

  • Decision 274/2013 - Mr Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
  • Decision 275/2013 - Mr Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
  • Decision 276/2013 - Mr Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
    Three decisions which each find that the Ministers failed to respond to Mr Hutcheon's requests for information. In each case, a response was provided to Mr Hutcheon during our investigation.

 

  • Decision 277/2013 - Brian Shannan and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    Mr Shannan asked SEPA for information about its policy on potential conflicts of interest, and for confirmation that a named individual was a SEPA employee. While information in response to the former was provided, SEPA refused to respond to the latter request, on the grounds that providing the information would breach data protection law. Following investigation, we agreed that SEPA had been correct to withhold this information under the EIRs.

 

  • Decision 278/2013 - Rachael Pringle and the Scottish Ministers
    Ministers responded to Ms Pringle's information request on the relocation of Scottish Government employees by providing some information, and withholding some on the grounds that release would breach data protection law. Our investigation found that the Ministers did not hold some of the information Ms Pringle had asked for, but that Ministers had been entitled to withhold the remainder. We also found that Ministers had failed to respond to Ms Pringle's request within FOI timescales.

 

  • Decision 279/2013 - Martin Williams and Skills Development Scotland (SDS)
    Mr Williams asked for information about pre-prepared responses to media enquiries. SDS informed him that the cost of complying would exceed the FOI Act's upper limit of £600. We agreed with this assessment.

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