Transcript of "Intro to Freedom of Information (FOI)"
FOI<br />@alaninbelfast<br />Your rights<br />Asking nicely<br />How to avoid using it?<br />Publication Schemes<br />Timelines<br />
FOI<br />Your rights<br />Freedom of Information Act (2000) provides individuals or organisations with the right to request information held by any public authority.<br />public money = accountability to the public<br />The public authority must tell the applicant (1) whether it holds the information, and (2) must normally supply it within 20 working days, in the format requested.<br />
FOI<br />Try phoning!<br />Some organisations are very open and happy to answer questions and provide information (if they don’t already make it freely available).<br />Belfast City Council are very open.<br />www.opendatani.info (@opendatani)<br />www.data.gov.uk<br />How to avoid using it?<br />
FOI<br />All public sector organisations had to adopt a Model Publication Scheme by 1 January 2009. It commits the organisation to proactively publish certain classes of information:<br />Who they are and what they do<br />What they spend and how they spend it <br />What their priorities are and how they are doing <br />How they make decisions <br />Their policies and procedures <br />Lists and registers <br />The services they offer<br />Publication Schemes<br />
FOI<br />Public Bodies also publish a Definition Document which will give examples of the kind of information in each class and states where it will be published.<br />So council minutes will often be defined as being available in council offices, local libraries, the council website and by post (sometimes for a small fee).<br />Publication Schemes<br />
FOI<br />Day 0 – You ask.<br />Day 1 – The clock starts ticking the next morning.<br />Day 20 – They must reply to confirm whether the information exists and to disclose the information (or to explain which exemption they are applying) “promptly, but no later than 20 working days”.<br /><ul><li>Some organisations reply within a couple of days.
Some organisations strangely reply at 5pm on Day 20!
They don’t have to acknowledge receipt of your request (though many will).</li></ul>Timelines<br />
FOI<br />If the organisation refuses to supply the information, or refuses to confirm whether they hold it, they must issue a Refusal Notice.<br />They must explain what exemption they are relying on , specify the section and sub-section, and set out their reasoning.<br />They may ask for further time to undertake a public interest test to confirm or deny a qualified exemption.<br />Common exemptions include:<br /><ul><li>information reasonably accessible by other means;
cost of providing information exceeds £450 (£600 for central government).</li></ul>Timelines<br />
FOI<br />A lot of organisations will offer an Internal Review if you are not satisfied. Someone independent of the original respondent looks at your questions, their organisation’s response, and your grievance.<br />Day 0 – You ask for the internal review & supply the details.<br />Day 1 – The clock starts ticking the next morning.<br />Day 20 – They must reply “promptly, but no later than 20 working days”.<br />Timelines<br /><ul><li>After that you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office ... but there are lengthy delays.</li></li></ul><li>FOI<br />Using a recent FOI response from Translink as a mini-casestudy.<br />The requestors had asked for timetable and station/stop information for trains and buses, along with GPS tracking data for buses.<br />
FOI<br />Section 22 applies since the publication was already scheduled.<br />You submit a request to see a copy of the plan if you doubted the veracity of the claim. (In this case, it was known that Translink were talking to OpenDataNI.)<br />The only data currently available for N I Railways is scheduled train timetable data and geo-coded stations and halts which we will be publishing through Opendatani in the future.<br />As such we would take the view that this information is exempt under Section 22 of the Act, as “information intended for future publication”.<br />
FOI<br />It wasn’t enough that they said it wasn’t in their commercial interest.<br />This exemption is qualified.<br />“Even if information falls within section 43, public authorities must then apply the public interest test set out in section 2(2)(b). The information can only be withheld if the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”<br />Which they did ...<br />Translink believes that the release of the requested Ulsterbus data would, at this point in time, prejudice the commercial interests of the organisation.<br />In applying the Section 43 exemption consideration was given to the benefits of making the Ulsterbus service data more widely available in a format other than traditional timetable ...<br />In considering the wider public interest in the application of Exemption 43 ... The release of Ulsterbus data, as is, is on balance likely to have a negative impact on customer experience and therefore be detrimental to the commercial interests of the company until such time as data integrity issues have been internally resolved and fully tested.<br />
FOI<br />So while Translink are in the clear, nothing to stop someone asking DRD Roads Service for the information!<br />The GPS location data is an output of the Bustrak (ACIS) system which was introduced by the Department for Regional Development’s Roads Service, in conjunction with Translink. The system and its information remain the intellectual property of Roads Service<br />
FOI<br />There’s no magic incantation.<br />You don’t have to mention FOI.<br />You don’t have to explain why you’re asking.<br />You don’t have to use their specific FOI address ... but from experience it may speed things up!<br />You just have to ask a question and supply your real name and a postal/email address.<br />Use “what”, “when”, “how much” rather than “why”?<br />Check if the information is already available online before you ask ...<br />Asking nicely<br />
FOI<br />There’s no magic incantation.<br />But there are ways of getting their attention!<br />Asking nicely<br />
FOI<br />My preferred format to receive this information is by electronic means. If you need any clarification of this request please feel free to email me. If it is more convenient, I am happy that you respond to questions individually, rather than waiting to collate all the answers.”<br />I would be grateful if you could confirm by email that you have received this request, and I look forward to receiving the information (or your reasons for rejection) “promptly, but no later than 20 working days”.<br />Asking nicely<br />
FOI<br />You can ask them to send the information electronically.<br />If the public body replies and says you can only have the information by visiting in person or paying for a photocopy to be posted out to you, challenge them!<br />Section 11(1) of the Freedom of Information Act states that “Where, on making his request for information, the applicant expresses a preference for communication … the authority shall so far as is reasonably practicable give effect to that preference.”<br />Asking nicely<br />
FOI<br />@alaninbelfast<br />Further Help & Reading<br />Information Commissioner’s Office<br />Website = www.ico.gov.uk<br />Helpline = 0303 123 1113<br />The FOI guidance web pages are very detailed and useful when challenging reluctant organisations. In particular, bookmark<br />www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/freedom_of_information/guidance.aspx<br />WhatDoTheyKnow.com from mySociety<br />nalil.blogspot.comNevin Taggart’s blog<br />Heather Brooke’s books …<br />