Decisions Round-up: 7 to 11 September 2015

What's in a name? In one case this week, an authority said it didn't hold a "report" of an investigation. While it didn't have one single document named "report", it did hold other pieces of information which reported on the investigation. Find out what we decided in that case, as well as 2 handy learning points about requests for personal data in this week's round-up:

Key messages:

  • Information about employees' private lives is unlikely to be made public
    Even relatively senior employees are likely to have a reasonable expectation that information about their private lives will be kept private. In Decision 139/2015, we found that Police Scotland were not required to disclose information about senior officers' housing allowance payments. The payments were dependent on factors personal to the individuals concerned, such as their marital status.
  • Be careful not to interpret requests too narrowly
    Just because a requester describes information using a term such as "report", it doesn't mean they're only looking for a single document with that particular title. In Decision 140/2015 we found that the requester's reference to a "report" didn't mean he was only seeking a single document called "report". There were other items of information which, when taken together, could be considered a "report" and should have been taken into account.
  • Remember - you can refuse to confirm or deny whether you hold personal data
    The personal data exemptions in section 38 of the FOI Act are now included in the list of exemptions where authorities can neither confirm nor deny whether information is held (section 18 of the FOI Act). Decision 141/2015 is a case where we considered this issue.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 139/2015 Paul Hutcheon and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)
    Mr Hutcheon asked Police Scotland for information on the amount of housing allowance claimed by officers in 2013/14. Police Scotland provided Mr Hutcheon with some information, but refused to provide a breakdown of the amount of housing allowance claimed by individual senior officers. We found that Police Scotland were entitled to withhold the information on the basis that it was personal data, and disclosure would breach the first data protection principle which requires that personal data be processed fairly and lawfully.
  • Decision 140/2015 Ian Baxter and Aberdeenshire Council
    Mr Baxter made 2 requests to the Council asking for information about the possible misuse of a Blue Badge. The Council withheld the information as personal data, disclosure of which would breach the data protection principles. We found that the Council was correct to withhold the information, although it shouldn't have told Mr Baxter that it held no information in relation to one of his requests.
  • Decision 141/2015 Andrew Hamilton and Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
    Mr Hamilton asked the SQA for qualification and training information about two individuals. The SQA did not confirm whether it held the information, and stated that, if it did hold information, it would be exempt from disclosure as personal data. The Commissioner investigated and found that the SQA was entitled to refuse to confirm or deny whether it held relevant information under section 18 of the FOI Act. There's more information on the changes which enabled authorities to use this provision in our FOI Amendment Act briefing.

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