'Frequently-asked questions on Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Requests for Research Data' (Chris Rusbridge)
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'Frequently-asked questions on Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Requests for Research Data' (Chris Rusbridge)






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  • The graph displayed shows the frequencies for the number of requests for research data over a period of 3+ years. Out of 21 HEIs who responded, 11 reported zero requests, and 4 reported 1 request. One reported 2 requests, one reported 5 requests, 2 reported 6 requests, one reported 8 and one 9 requests.
  • This graph shows the increase in reported data requests under FoI/EIR over 3+ years. The 11 HEIS who reported requests by year reported as follows: 2 requests 2008 4 requests 2009 16 requests 2010 11 requests (to about August)
  • This graphic is simply a screen grab of the long version consultation web site as detailed in previous slide.

'Frequently-asked questions on Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Requests for Research Data' (Chris Rusbridge) 'Frequently-asked questions on Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Requests for Research Data' (Chris Rusbridge) Presentation Transcript

  • Frequently-asked questions on Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Requests for Research Data
  • Contents
    • Background: Climategate & FoI
    • How many requests for research data?
    • Costs and benefits?
    • Freedom of Information (FoI) exemptions relevant to research data
    • Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) exceptions relevant to research data
    • The FAQ
    • Main information sources
    • Take-home message…
  • Background
    • “ Climategate”
      • UEA/CRU FoI case resolved against UEA by Information Commissioner
      • QUB Tree Ring data FoI/EIR case resolved against QUB
      • Times Higher article by Hannah Fearn
    • FoI guidance
      • Much dates from around the time of introduction of FoI
      • Much is oriented to Records Managers
      • None for researchers
    • JISC commissioned a FAQ on FoI for research data!
  • Comment…
    • The UEA case was not for research data, but for information about and communications by the researchers
    • The QUB case was eventually resolved under Environmental Information Regulations, not Freedom of Information, and aspects related to procedural issues. It is NOT a precedent…
      • (generally speaking, FoI Decisions are Particulars rather than Universals !)
  • The legislation…
    • Freedom of Information Act 2000. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/introduction
      • Applies in UK except Scotland
    • Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2002/13/introduction
    • The Environmental Information Regulations 2004. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/3391/contents/made
      • Applies in UK except Scotland
    • The Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2004/520/contents/made
    • All came into force 1 January 2005
  • Summary
    • Public right to know information held by public authorities
    • Must provide response within 20 working days
      • Can ( or must ) refuse if exemption (FoI) or exception (EIR) applies
      • May (or may not) have to confirm existence of the information
      • Otherwise provide the requested information
    • The details of exemptions/exceptions are critical!
      • Always involve your FoI Practioner!
  • Extracts from notes of a round table meeting between HE Sector and ICO (29 Sept 2010)
    • “ There is no definition of ‘ Re search data ’ currently in the law. The Muir Russell report encourages the ICO to look at the US example in this area, including the ‘Sh elby amendment ’ . … Currently, any information held by a university (including laboratory notebooks, simulations, etc.) is subject to FOIA/EIR.”
    • “ The US ‘Sh elby Amendment ’ in 1998 required all data produced under federally funded research to be made available under the US Freedom of Information Act. After discussion with the scientific community, the final guidelines gave a precise definition of ‘Re search data ’ as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings, but not any of the following: preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer reviews, or communications with colleagues .”
    • “ The ICO acknowledged that further work needed to be done around understanding IPR as it resides in research data…”
  • Extracts from notes continued
    • “ The law assumes that information being released under FOIA and EIR is going into the public domain , so the identity of the individual requesting the information is not pertinent to any decision around release of information. Information released under the FOIA or EIR is subject to and protected by existing Copyright laws . ”
    • Is that not a contradiction?
  • Extracts from notes continued
    • “ Th e role and use of research data:
    • The public has an interest in universities contributing to the UK’s economic and reputational standing globally. Open data ‐ sharing at too early a stage of research could dissuade international collaborators from working with UK colleagues , which would weaken UK research and UK plc .”
    • Grounds for “prejudice to effective public affairs” exemption?
  • How many requests for research data?
    • Recorded requests are very rare (but increasing)
    • Asked UKHE members of RLUK plus Bath University
      • 24 HEIs; 3 did not respond or give enough information!
      • 21 responses
    • Over 3+ years (2007 to mid 2010), 40 recorded requests for research data
      • Less than 2 per HEI over 3+ years
    • Comparatively, such HEIs currently receive o(100)+ FoI/EIR requests per year!
  • Request distribution Cambridge reported 0 FoI requests for research data
  • Increase in research data requests
    • 11 HEIs provided data by year
    • 2010 is to around August
      • (I.e. just over half the year)
  • Implications for costs
    • Most researchers are still extremely unlikely to have their data requested under FoI or EIR
    • The risk probably increases greatly in controversial areas such as climate research, stem cells, animal testing etc
    • Community norms currently discourage researchers from tit-for-tat FoI requests
    • If you get a FoI (or EIR) request, you MUST take it seriously, and get advice from your FoI Practitioner ASAP
    • Defending against a FoI/EIR request can take significant knowledge and resources. You will have to stay involved.
  • Benefits of FoI/EIR
    • Community norms suggest NOT using the legislation to obtain your competitors’ data before publication!
    • Requests could (perhaps should) be used to obtain data where there is doubt about published findings, or where data are not being properly deposited
    • FoI may encourage Open Data approaches (where applicable), which might support better research…
  • Useful FoI exemptions for research data?
    • Available elsewhere
    • Information requested is intended for publication
      • Scotland: in 12 weeks
      • Rest of the UK, no limit
    • Research (Scotland only)
      • Information gathered in the course of research
      • Research will lead to a report
    • Prejudice to public affairs???
    • Health & Safety
    • Personal data
    • Provided in confidence (could be sued if disclosed)
    • Commercial interest (must show harm if disclosed)???
    • Excessive cost
  • Intended for future publication…
    • Most likely exemption outside Scotland
    • Limited:
      • Intention to publish must exist when the request is made
      • Timescale of publication irrelevant (except 12 weeks from date of request in Scotland)
      • Intention must be to publish the information requested, not simply an article based on the information…
    • So if you have a policy to publish your research data later, eg at the end of your research, then this exemption may apply! Open Data might help prevent premature disclosure…
  • Useful EIR Exceptions for research data?
    • Personal data
    • Incomplete data
    • Internal communications
    • Intellectual property
    • Confidentiality
    • Interests of the environment
  • Mind the PIT
    • Many exemptions/exceptions are subject to a Public Interest Test…
    • General presumption is in favour of disclosure, unless the public interest is better served by refusal
      • Could be tough in controversial areas of public debate?
      • Can argue that research should be completed before data can safely be released?
  • Sources of information
    • JISC Legal
      • http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/LegalAreas/FreedomofInformation.aspx
    • JISC InfoNet
      • http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/foi
    • Information Commissioners
      • Information Commissioner’s Office
        • http://www.ico.gov.uk/
      • Scottish Information Commissioner
        • http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/
    • Ministry of Justice
      • http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/freedom-of-information.htm
  • The Research Data FoI FAQ
    • FAQ consultation until 12 November 2010
      • Print version draft (shortened)
        • http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/programme/2010/foiresearchdata.pdf
      • Web version (longer):
        • http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2010/foiresearchdata.aspx
  • Take home messages
    • If you get a request, always consult your FoI Practitioner ASAP
      • Management: listen to your FoI Practitioners
    • Outwith Scotland, a policy always to publish your data may help to protect them until the time is right
    • [email_address]