Monday, April 17, 2006

New decision - first major fees case

This case is interesting, the complaint relating to Section 12 was upheld, a decision that given the evidence presented by the MoD would seem fair, but I wonder whether the Information Commissioner could have give further consideration to the following issues: was the initial refusal: "On 5th April 2005 the public authority refused the request on the grounds that “the War Pensions Computer System that records and runs the War Pensions scheme is unable to identify this particular (Falklands) conflict and therefore no figures are available." a clear response under S17?

Although there was not a statutory need to do so I wonder whether the issue of making a charge could have been discussed with the MoD.

Also I would also suggest that the ICO could go further in the investigation and perhaps show some evidence of scutinising the MoD's claims in more detail: they could have gone to the MoD and looked at the computer system themselves in situ and asked to see the data structure "live". Or the ICO could have asked for systems based evidence of the full database structures used by the computer system. I also would contend that complex cost cases such as this one involving IT systems will crop up on on a regular basis at the ICO and hope that the ICO have officers with specialist IT skills to tackle these cases with a high level of scrutiny.

Finally the case raises issues about the whole issue of the obtaining information held in databases - requests can often be denied due to costs limits being breached by poor data structure and how even "new" databases will often pose this problem. The issue will be for databases to be designed (within reasonable limits) with not just the business requirements of the public authority but bearing in my mind future public interest in the data, that may be different to the business need.

In this case in terms of best practice the ICO could have asked whether the Mod had any future plans to make this data available as a historical resource using a new database or make suggestions using a practice recommendation - though I would accept this could be seen as beyond the remit of the ICO. As ever happy to have comments added below.

Case Ref: FS50084565
Date: 13/04/06
Public Authority: Ministry of Defence.
The complainant requested information about Falklands War Veterans in receipt of a War Pension due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The MoD refused the request on the grounds that the collation of the information would exceed the costs limit. The Commissioner investigated this claim and was satisfied that the MoD had applied the section 12 exemption correctly.
Section of Act/EIR & Findings: FOI s.12 - Complaint Not Upheld
Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50084565

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