Frequently Asked Questions
- Making information available
- How a request is made
- How should an Authority handle a request
- Exemptions - Can information always be accessed?
- How does Freedom of information fit with Data Protection?
- Key Points for staff of the University
Information on this page is based on material developed for the Scottish Executive.
Making Information Available
Under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, each public authority must have a Publication Scheme in place. The purpose of a Scheme is to provide information proactively in an easily accessible form, so that people can access it without having to make an individual request. A Scheme will set out what classes of information the authority publishes or intends to publish, how the information is made available and whether there is a fee for the information. The University of Strathclyde has adopted the Model Publication Scheme for Scottish Universities and the University's own Publication Scheme has been in place since 1st September 2004.
How is A Request Made?
From 1st January 2005, anyone, anywhere can make a request for information and will be entitled to receive it, provided no exemptions apply. The request can be made by an individual or an organisation and does not have to be made by someone in Scotland. Authorities are only obliged to provide recorded information, such as computer documents, handwritten notes and videos.
Requests must be in writing or in another permanent form, (eg by email.) Requests must state the name and address of the applicant and describe what information is required. There is no need to cite the Act or explain why information is being requested. Authorities may charge a fee in accordance with Fees Regulations which are to be prepared by the Scottish Executive.
How Should an Authority Handle a Request?
Authorities will be obliged to help anyone who proposes to make a request for information. All requests should be dealt with promptly and in any case within 20 days. An authority can ask for more details in order to identify the information requested.
An authority is not obliged to comply with a request if an exemption applies under the Act, or if the cost of doing so would exceed the amount set by the Fees Regulations, or if the information is not held by the authority. In any of these instances, it must notify the applicant. If an applicant is dissatisfied with the way their request is dealt with, they can ask the authority for a formal review. If following that review the applicant remains dissatisfied, an appeal can be made to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
Exemptions - Can Information Always Be Accessed?
There are 17 categories of exempt information covering areas such as government interests and relations, public sector administration, national security and defence, law enforcement, personal information and commercial interests. Authorities should favour disclosure wherever possible and this is where the balance should lie. If an exemption applies, the applicant should be given a written refusal notice which explains why the request is being refused. The notice should also inform the applicant of their right to apply for a review of the decision.
How Does Freedom of Information Fit with Data Protection?
The Data Protection Act 1998 aims to secure individuals' rights to privacy by protecting information that is held about them. Any authority that handles personal data must comply with the data protection principles which control how such data is processed. These principles include, amongst others, that personal data should be fairly and lawfully processed. Individuals have the right to ask for a description of the personal data held about them, this is known as a subject access request, and to receive a copy of the information.
Under FOI, a request by an individual for information about themselves will be exempt under freedom of information and will continue to be handled under data protection. However certain amendments will be made to the Data Protection Act. At present the Data Protection Act only covers computerised information and some manual files. This may be changed so that when an individual makes a subject access request they will be given all recorded information held by an authority, including information in unstructured files. If individuals want access to unstructured data they must describe the information so that the authority can find it.
If someone makes a request for information about another living individual, this will be handled under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, but certain data protection considerations will still apply, for example the authority will not have to provide the information if the disclosure would breach the data protection principles. If the authority decides that it may wish to disclose the information, then it should usually notify the individual and take account of their wishes, although, the authority does not have to be bound by the views of the individual.
The University's Data Protection policy
Key Points For Staff of the University
- Any request for information may be a FOI request
- A clock starts ticking; we have 20 working days to respond
- Record the date the request is made
- If you routinely give out certain information to the public, staff and students, continue to give out this information
- Be prepared to provide advice and assistance
- Make sure someone will deal with requests in your absence
- If you have concerns about responding to a request, seek advice from your Department FOI Contact or the University Freedom of Information Office