Decisions Round-up: 4 to 8 November 2019

This week, we take a closer look at the route to accessing your own personal information. If you want your own information, make a request under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and not under FOI law. Authorities can't disclose requesters' personal information under FOI.

We also look at how authorities should best measure - and evidence - the potential harm caused by the disclosure of information.

Learning points:

  • Understanding the request will lead to the right searches
    In two of our decisions this week, the authority had failed to understand the scope of the request. As a result, the searches conducted were not adequate. Where there is doubt about the scope of a request, authorities should ask for clarification or offer advice and assistance to the requester.
  • FOI is not the route to access information about you
    Section 38 of FOISA contains an absolute exemption for requesters' personal data - this means it is not subject to the public interest test). Rather, individuals have another right to make a request for their own personal data under the GDPR. This route is more appropriate as the information is only provided to the individual. This exemption does not deny individuals a right to access information about themselves, but ensures that the right is exercised under the correct law.
  • There must a link between disclosure and harm
    Authorities should always evidence how disclosing information would result in harm. In doing so, they should take into account public disclosures of similar information in the past. If the authority disclosed similar information in the past without harm being caused (and there's nothing to suggest that this situation is different), it will be difficult to link disclosure and harm.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 155/2019 City of Edinburgh Council
    The Council was asked for information about allegations and withheld it under an exemption in the FOI Act. Following an investigation, we found that the Council did not in fact hold the information requested.
  • Decision 156/2019 University of Dundee
    The requester asked the University for communications between committee members. The University refused to disclose the information on the basis that it was the requester's own personal data and, therefore, exempt under the FOI Act. We agreed.
  • Decision 157/2019 Culture and Sport Glasgow (Glasgow Life)
    After being asked for information about Scotstoun Leisure Centre, Glasgow Life provided some information, but the requester believed more information was held. We investigated and found that Glasgow Life had conducted adequate searches and had disclosed all the relevant information it held. However, we also found that it had failed to respond to the requests within the time allowed.
  • Decision 158/2019 University of the West of Scotland
    The University refused to respond to a request on the basis that it was vexatious. Our investigation found that the University had not adequately demonstrated that the request was vexatious.
  • Decision 159/2019 Fife Council
    The Council was asked about an investigation and fact finding exercises carried out following a complaint. It refused to disclose information under a number of exemptions. We investigated and found that the Council was entitled to withhold the information.
  • Decision 160/2019 Scottish Ministers (the Ministers)
    The Ministers were asked about salmon ova imports. They provided some information, but withheld some on the basis it was commercially confidential. We investigated and found that the Ministers had been wrong to withhold the information.
  • Decision 161/2019 Cairngorms National Park Authority (CPNA)
    CNPA was asked for agendas and minutes of the Carrbridge Capercaillie Working Group and Cairngorm Capercallie Project Board. It provided some information and located further information during our investigation. We found that the CNPA failed to provide all the information it held at the time of the request and had failed in its duty to provide advice and assistance to the requester.
  • Decision 162/2019 Stirling Council
    A requester asked about the cancellation of a tendering exercise related to the Council's Sports, Physical Activity and Wellbeing Services. The Council withheld information on the basis that it was either subject to legal professional privilege or was commercially sensitive. Some information was only disclosed during our investigation. We agreed that some of the information was subject to legal profession privilege, but also found that some of the information had been wrongly withheld.

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