Monday, July 17, 2006

Guidance on handling persistent requestors and frivolous requests

The DCA have published some further advice on the issue of persistent requestors and frivolous requests. It links to the many comments that Lord Falconer has made this year about these type of requests (the DCA's definition may not be the same as the mine and yours) wasting public officials' time and public money. See his speech to the British Academy from earlier this year:

However, it is also true, inevitably, that this culture is being undermined by requests under the Act which arguably do not impact so positively - like what a central government department spends on toilet paper or make-up, or whether written proof can be provided under the Act of a Minister's existence.

Responsible users of the Act and supporters of the legislation would surely agree that these sorts of requests are frivolous, and sometimes even vexatious, and that spending time answering them is not how public resources ought to be used.......

My department will be issuing guidance complementing that from the Information Commissioner, to help public authorities handle these types of requests

Also see the BBC news story from January 2006 - Openness law 'facing fees review'

Read the guidance (PDF)

This guidance is seemingly the first step to make the approach to these types of request more consistent and more rigourous(with changes to the fees regime being the next step?).

The requests covered by this guidance are:
· Requests for file lists followed by requests for large numbers of entire files
· Requests for information of a frivolous nature
· Persistent requests which have the effect of harassing a public authority.

The guidance does not attempt to discuss the problem of definition and the caution that should be used in defining "Requests for information of a frivolous nature" - a highly subjective decision to make. The Act does not have an exemption with the term frivolous apart from under S50 when the ICO can dismiss applications for decicions "that the application is frivolous or vexatious". Section 14 exempts vexatious and repeated requests (the difference in langauge is important).

Read the ICO decisions so far relating to use of S14 Exemption "Vexatious or repeated requests". (link goes to UCL's decision index).

Read the ICO guidance on Vexatious and Repeated Requests

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