Is it realistic or helpful for the law to be that any written request for information should fall under FOI?
On 23 April I noticed that an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) had been made by Ryanair regarding a Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) matter, also involving the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The Information Commissioner (ICO) Decision Notice in question has the reference number FS50391208. Knowing that Ryanair are sometimes a rather controversial outfit (although one acknowledges a lot of the controversy might actually be self-serving) I was interested to read the Decision Notice in question. The Tribunal’s website is rather basic, and the list of current appeals is uploaded only as a PDF document. This means that to read the Decision Notice in question one has to search for it elsewhere. However FS50391208 was, and is, nowhere to be found (unless my search skills have let me down).
This is a bit odd: a Decision Notice is a public document which the ICO issues when an application is made to him for a decision as to whether “a request for information made by the complainant to a public authority has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements [of FOIA]” (section 50, FOIA). I say “public” but as far as I know the open publication of Decision Notices is at the discretion of the ICO – nonetheless, it is clearly his standard custom to do this. So, any Decision Notice, especially one appealed by a company such as Ryanair, which is not published, might attract interest (bear in mind that Ryanair will have made request in question, and the OFT is the public authority involved). It is, of course, possible that an error has occurred: for instance, the Tribunal might have published the wrong reference number (although a search on the ICO’s site doesn’t throw up any Ryanair Decision Notices), or someone might just have omitted to upload the Notice.
Hi @ICOnews DN FS50391208 (OFT) which Ryanair are appealing does not appear to be on your website. Can we see it pls?
I didn’t receive any reply, so, a few days later, sent another
Hi @ICOnews – I asked this q the other day https://twitter.com/bainesy1969/status/194375116493291520 Any answer pls? It wd qualify as FOI request after all
I still haven’t received a reply. Perhaps my little emoticon made the tweet not seem serious? By my calculation the ICO’s twenty working days to respond is up tomorrow, so I thought I’d blog this today, lest the lovely ICO people I met at last week’s PDP conference think I’ve just waited until the time is up before reminding them (again).
The ICO has said that FOI requests made by twitter are valid requests, and I’ve previously blogged about this. But it does make me wonder how realistic it is for a public authority (especially a large one, which, with all due respect, the ICO is not) to be expected to monitor all information channels in case a request for information is made (which doesn’t even need to mention FOI, of course). The Irish Freedom of Information Act 1997 requires requesters to state that the request is made under the Act. Although that would not really help the ICO in my example here, it would avoid the situation where an FOI request is lost among reams of correspondence on a related matter. I don’t think an amendment of FOIA to this effect has been proposed in the UK, but I’m starting to think it might be a good idea.
This isn’t the most pressing issue facing FOI, and light touch regulation should mean that no one loses too much sleep if a request is inadvertently overlooked, but it is a subject which keeps nagging at me.
I rather suspect I’ve previously advocated against requiring requesters to invoke FOI in a response, and I reserve my right to change my mind again. As Lawrence Serewicz said in his inspiring talk at that PDP Conference, he has very strong opinions, but he holds them very weakly. I like to think I’m the same.