The WhatDoTheyKnow site – which facilitates the making of FOI requests – has been more successful than I expected in terms of the number of requests which have been made via the site.But it also seems to be annoying some of those people on the receiving end of the requests. Some are not happy that the way it works means that the entire correspondence between requester and public authority is made available to all through posting it on the internet, not just the information eventually disclosed (as in this case).
An official from Norfolk County Council complained about this at the FOILIve conference last week. And I heard similar complaints yesterday from some Police FOI officers at a meeting organised by ACPO.
However the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas was pretty dismissive of this complaint. It looks like FOI officers will have to learn to live with it.
Rother District Council are apparently still unhappy about whatdotheyknow, as can be seen by their most recent responses to requests.
My thanks to mikeludkipz for his recent comment, drawing attention to the fact that Rother District Council is still in a lot of bother over how it deals with FOI requests through this site.
After first continuing with its previous (but apparently futile) practice of seeking postal rather than email addresses from requesters, Rother has then been telling them: ‘would you please note that the response will be personal to yourself and that no consent to publish it, for instance on a web site, is given.’
Um, why is it ‘personal’? Why is there no consent to publish it?
Dear Lynda Crawford,
I am currently out of the country, and am not going to post my home address on a public website, if you send me a direct e-mail address, I will reply, bur note that I do not always have a workable internet connection.
A. N. Eastwood.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Further to my earlier message I now note that the Act does not require a postal address to be provided. An e-mail address is sufficient. Please therefore reply to my request.
A. N. Eastwood
Dear Mr Eastwood, you must still provide an “address for correspondence” if you wish us to process your request.
Um, he did – he gave you his email address, which is sufficient under the law.
Please note, however, that WE will not post your address on a public web site; we regard the details of people who make requests for information as protected under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The problem may be that instead of contacting us direct, which is the usual process, you are coming to us through a web site “what do they know”. As we, in common with all other local authorities, government departments etc maintain a full web site, with a clearly sign posted “freedom of information” section, I fail to see what practical purpose this amateurish web site serves,
Well, it seems obvious – it’s an easily accessible, FOI archive, which centrally stores FOI requests and answers. It saves the public time, in terms of each individual having to make separate requests about the same thing, and money, in terms of employing council employees such as David Edwards to write snippy emails to their employers.
The “amateurish web site” remark, by the way, provoked another request (“the number and URLs of websites Rother District Council class as amateurish…”), which made me laugh.
but if you choose to use it and they publish your address to the public, that is your decision.
Legal Services Manager, Rother D.C.
Dear David Edwards,
There is a very good reason for using this website, and that is that replies are published on it. You do have an e-mail address, which is an “address for correspondence”. I am becoming both puzzled and irritated that Rother District Council appears to be devoting more effort to avoiding answering a simple question, than it would take to answer it.
Unless the council has forgotten that it is the servant of council tax payers like me, and not the other way round,or has something to hide,I cannot see the pointof this prevarication.
A. N. Eastwood
Quite. Well done Mr Eastwood, very poor show David Edwards.