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How to use FOI: from absentee football fans to tazer-happy police

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Open lecture given at Birmingham City University, December 2014

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How to use FOI: from absentee football fans to tazer-happy police

  1. 1. FOI, EIR, DP: Using the law to get information
  2. 2. What I’ll cover: • Great ideas for exclusive stories • Your rights to information • Exemptions and excuses: tips for fighting your corner
  3. 3. Great ideas A simple way to get exclusive stories
  4. 4. Freedom of Information (FOI) • Any information held by public bodies • Documents and/or data • You’ve paid for this already: it’s your right to know* * See later!
  5. 5. Any information that is held by a public body •Crime: reports, arrests, convictions •Sports: funding, participation •Arts: funding, participation •Education: achievement, spending •Health: staffing, disease, mistakes pinboard.in/u:paulbradshaw/t:foi
  6. 6. What could you ask? • Topical issues: how widespread? • Policies: what impact/are they needed? • Claims: do the facts support them? • Curiosity: no one has ever asked!
  7. 7. It takes just 5 seconds 1. Search 2. Make 3. Send.
  8. 8. Look for ideas and examples • Google Alerts: “freedom of information” in Google News • FOI Friday by David Higgerson • FOI Directory by Matt Burgess • WhatDoTheyKnow.com
  9. 9. Look for ideas and examples • Google Alerts: “freedom of information” in Google News • FOI Friday by David Higgerson • FOI Directory by Matt Burgess • WhatDoTheyKnow.com • Disclosure logs on each body’s site
  10. 10. Who could you ask? • Regulators: energy, water, health, education, sport, gambling, industry • Local government: roads, schools, health, welfare, housing, environment • Central govt: welfare, justice, health, immigration, universities
  11. 11. Who could you ask? • Local health bodies: CCGs • Local police forces: reports, arrests, charges • Central govt: welfare, justice, health, immigration, universities
  12. 12. *“Your right to know”? Exemptions: • Cost: >18/24 hours (local/central) * See later!
  13. 13. Don’t worry. They have to ask first.
  14. 14. They are obliged to help you get it under the cost limit (And you can anticipate that) https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/flexible_working_applications_fo
  15. 15. But sometimes... ...they just don’t care.
  16. 16. *“Your right to know”? Exemptions: • Cost: >18/24 hours (local/central) • ‘Absolute’ vs ‘qualified’ exemptions • Qualified exemptions based on judgement: body must argue case * See later!
  17. 17. Absolute exemptions 1. Accessible by other means 2. State security bodies 3. Court records 4. Parliamentary privilege * See later!
  18. 18. http://www.telesurtv. net/english/news/UK-Police- Obstruct-Spying-Investigation- 20141110-0030.html
  19. 19. Absolute exemptions 5. ‘Prejudice the conduct of public affairs’ 6. Personal data 7. Provided in confidence 8. Legally prohibited (e.g. contempt, other laws) * See later!
  20. 20. Qualified exemptions: public interest vs... 1. ‘Prejudice’ of law enforcement, economic/commercial interests, international relations, etc. 2. ‘Class’ exemption: national security, policy formulation, etc. 3. Commercial information * See later!
  21. 21. What if they say no? • Ask for their evidence/argument • Does it apply to whole, or part? • Internal appeal • Appeal to the ICO* • Appeal to higher bodies (High Court, etc)
  22. 22. ICO = Information Commissioner’s Office • Responsible for upholding FOI, DP, EIR • Publishes guidance • Hears appeals... • ...and makes judgements
  23. 23. http://search.ico.gov.uk/ico/search/decisionnotice
  24. 24. How do you tell the story? • Data tells you why it matters • Documents give you the detail • People tell us why we should care
  25. 25. Phrasing the request to get the right details • Have an idea what the story is - and what information you’ll need to tell that. • Find out what info they collect • Don’t make assumptions: be specific
  26. 26. Don’t forget context.
  27. 27. EIR: • Useful alternative to FOI if you can find an environmental angle • Fewer exemptions
  28. 28. Data Protection Act: • Request any information held about you (or ask someone to request their own info) • Can be a small charge
  29. 29. Key points: • Start with a good idea that can wait 4 weeks+ • Find out what they know first • Anticipate excuses
  30. 30. Brooke: Your Right To Know Amin & Montague: FOIA Without The Lawyer Amin & Montague: EIRs Without The Lawyer Further reading.
  31. 31. Delicious.com/paulb/foi Delicious.com/paulb/foieg Delicious.com/paulb/eir Delicious.com/paulb/dataprotection Bookmarks
  32. 32. Questions!
  33. 33. Draft an FOI around an electoral issue for 2015, e.g. - NHS - Immigration - Welfare, e.g. living wage, sanctions Task:

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