You are on page 1of 4

FOI 31

WrittenevidencefromtheUniversityofSalford 1.1 1.2 ExecutiveSummary ItistheUniversityofSalfordsviewthatseriousconsiderationshouldbegiventoremoving UniversitiesfromtheambitoftheFreedomofInformationActbecausetheyarenotPublic AuthoritiesinviewofthenowrelativelysmallproportionofpublicfundingtoBritish Universities.Instead,robustandclearguidelinesofbestpracticeinaccesstoinformation shouldapply. IntheeventthatUniversitiescontinuetobesubjecttotheActtheUniversityofSalford submitsthatitsoperationwouldbemarkedlyimprovedincertainoperationalaspects.These areasare: Theelementsofdealingwitharequestwhichareincludedinthecalculatingwhethera requesthasexceededtheAppropriateLimit; Thedefinitionofanddemonstrationofvexatiousrequests; Theconsiderationofcommercialinterests; TheinteractionbetweentheFoIAandtheDataProtectionAct1998; Proactivedisclosureofinformation;and Thedealingwithcommercialrequests. DoestheFreedomofInformationActworkeffectively? Pleaseseeourcommentsbelow. WhatarethestrengthsandweaknessesoftheFreedomofInformationAct? S12Exemptionwherethecostofcomplianceexceedsappropriatelimit TheAppropriateLimitof600forCentralGovernmentwasdecidedupontoprovideparity betweentheamountofworkpermittedforaFoIrequestandthatforaParliamentary Question(PQ).However,whileMPsmaymakemanyPQs,thereareonly660MPswhereas therearemillionsofpotentialFoIrequestersandmanymorerequestsaremadeunderFoI thantherearePQs. TheactivitiescostedunderTheFreedomofInformationandDataProtection(Appropriate LimitandFees)Regulations2004aretoorestrictedanddonotincludesomeofthemost timeconsumingelementsofdealingwithFoIrequests.Simplyreadingandconsidering whetherexemptionsapplycantakedaysbutthisactivitydoesnotcounttowardsthe AppropriateLimit. Redactingdoesnotcounteitherandthiselementofarequestcantakesignificantlymore timethantherestoftheelementsofdealingwiththerequestputtogether.Arecent requestreceivedbytheUniversityofSalford(which,intheend,wasamendedbythe requesterduetothehighcostofdisbursements)wouldhaveinvolvedtheredactionof multiplesectionsfromeverypageofadocumentofsome4000pageswhichwouldhave takenweekstoundertakeatconsiderableexpensetotheUniversity. IftheAppropriateLimitistoincludetheadministrativecostsofextractingtheinformation fromdocumentscontainingit,itwouldmakesensethattheadministrativecostsofredacting exemptinformationfromthedocumentstobereleasedshouldalsobeincluded. Recommendation:Thattheadministrativecostsofconsideringexemptionsandthe administrativecostsofredactingexemptinformationareincludedinthecalculationofthe AppropriateLimit. S14Vexatiousorrepeatedrequests

1.3

2.0 2.1 3.0 3.1 3.1.1

3.1.2

3.1.3

3.1.4

3.1.5

3.2

FOI 31
3.2.1 TheUniversityhassignificantexperienceoftheuseofthissectionhavingreceivedalarge numberofvexatiousrequests.Toputtheseintocontext,theUniversityreceivedaround 120requestsfromaroundadozenrequestersinathreemonthperiod.TheUniversity deemedtheserequeststoberelated,aimedtocauseinconvenienceandpartofawider campaignofdisruptionbeingwagedagainsttheUniversity.Atthetimeournormalnumber ofrequestsperyearwasaround80.Mostofthepeoplemakingtheserequestsaskedforan internalappeal,fourcomplainedtotheICOandonetooktheICOdecisiontotheTribunal andhavinglostateachstagerequestedanappealagainstthetribunalfindingwhichwas denied. Inoneinstancethelengthoftimefromthereceiptofthefirstrequesttothedecisionbeing madebytheFirstTierTribunalwas21months.Thenumberofstaffinvolved,thetimeand moneyspentondealingwitha,theserequests,b,theinternalappeal,c,theinvestigation madebytheICOafteritreceivedcomplaintsbytherequestersandd,thetribunal proceedingsweresignificantanddivertedstaffandresourcesfromthenormalworkofthe University.TheUniversitysexperienceisthatittakesmoretimeandefforttodemonstrate vexatiousnessunderthecurrentlegislationthanitdoestorespondtoavexatiousrequest.It istheUniversitysviewthattheresourceimplicationsofusings14severelyreducethe amountitisusedwiththeresultthatgenuinelyvexatiousrequestsaredealtwithbecause, despitethesignificantinconvenienceanddisruption,thistakeslessresourcethanhavingto dealwithsubsequentinvestigationsbytheICO. Theamountofinformationrequiredandlevelofevidenceofvexatiousnessrequiredbythe ICOis,inourview,toohighanditwasonlyasaresultofourpersistence,andtheeffortsof dedicatedstaffthatwereceivedarulinginourfavourfromtheICOwhichwassubsequently supportedbytheInformationTribunal,establishingatestcaseforwhattheTribunal describedasadenialofserviceattack.PleaserefertotheEmploymentTribunalfindings onthisrecentcase: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i554/20110726%20Decision%20E A20110060%20%28w%29.pdf TheUniversitysconservativeestimateisthatthisparticularcasecosttheUniversityin excessof75,000instafftimealone,plussubstantiallegalfees. WhiletheUniversityacceptsthegeneralprincipleofFoIbeingpurposeblindandtheidentity oftherequesterbeingirrelevant,inthecaseofvexatiousrequestsandsuchrequestscoming fromoneormorerequestersasacampaign,thereneedstobeaclearprocessfor categorisingtheserequestersasvexatious. Recommendation:ThatthereisareconsiderationoftherulesassociatedwithS14tomake itsimplerforPublicAuthoritiestomakeacompellingcasefordeemingarequesttobe vexatious. CommercialInterests TheAct,anditscurrentinterpretationbytheICO,doesnotsufficientlyrecognisetheimpact onUniversitycommercialactivitiesinthatitplacestoohighaburdenonPublicAuthorities todemonstrateaprejudiceorlikelyprejudicetoitscommercialinterestsespeciallyinareas ofresearchandintellectualproperty. IntheHigherEducationsector,Universitiesarenowfundedmorefromnonpublicfunding thanfrompublicfundingwiththeproportionofpublicfundingsettodeclineevenfurtherin thenextfewyears.Thishasanimpactonthereleaseoffinancial,contractualandother relatedinformationaswellaswhatcouldberegardedasintellectualproperty. IntellectualpropertyistheUniversityscoreproduct,beitrelatingtoteachingandlearning ortoresearch.Thedisclosureofthisinformationtothepublicdomainhasthepotentialto

3.2.2

3.2.3

3.2.4 3.2.5

3.2.6

3.3 3.3.1

3.3.2

3.3.3

FOI 31
3.3.4 puttheUniversityatacommercialdisadvantage:havingspentitsincomecreatingthis intellectualpropertybutthenbeingunableto,orlikelytofinditverydifficulttoprotectthis intellectualpropertyfrombeingexploitedbyothersincludingcompetitororganisationsif released. ThisisnotintendedtocreateadefensivewallbehindwhichtheHEcommunitycanhide:the UniversityiscommittedtoopenaccessandtheUniversityofSalfordisatthevanguardof theopenaccessmovementbutonoccasionitisvital,intheinterestsoftheUniversityand thoseofthepublic,thatsomedataiswithheld.Thedistinctionbetweenacademicopen accessandFoIopenaccessisclearlyunderstoodandsupportedbytheUniversitybut decisionnoticesinthisareaappeartodemonstratealackofsimilarunderstandingbythe ICO. Onmanyoccasions,theICOhasfailedtorecognisetheuniquecircumstancesaroundthe intellectualcapitalofUniversityteaching,andmoreimportantly,researchmaterialsandin theincreasinglycompetitivenatureofHE,itcouldveryeasilybecomecommonplacefor UniversitiestohavetheirmaterialpoachedbycompetitorsthroughtheofficesoftheFoIA. DespitethecommentsoftheMinisterofStateonthismattertotheGrandCommitteeofthe HouseofLordswhenitconsideredAmendment151(asintroducedbyBaronessWarwickof Undercliffe,ChiefExecutiveofUniversitiesUKonbehalfoftheHEsector)oftheProtection ofFreedomsBill,itistheviewofUniversitiesinthecountrythattheFreedomofInformation ActisunabletoprotectintellectualpropertycreatedandheldbyUniversities. TheUniversitynotesthatthearrangementssetoutintheScottishLegislation(s27(2)ofthe FreedomofInformation(Scotland)Act2002(FoI(S)A))provideclarityonthisposition. Recommendations:ThatICOtakesadifferentapproachandissensitivetothecommercial natureofsomeinformationheldbyPublicAuthorities,especiallythosewhichoperateina commercialfield.ThatanadditionalexemptionisincludedintheActtocoverresearchas previouslyrecommendedbyUniversitiesUKandasincludedintheFoI(S)A. S40Personalinformation RecentcasesthattheUniversityhasexperienceddemonstratethatthereisconfusiondueto thecomplexnatureofthecrossoverbetweentheFoIAandDataProtectionAct1998(DPA) andthisgreyareawherethetwoActsinterrelaterequiressimplificationandclarification. Recommendation:ThattheinteractionbetweentheFoIAandtheDPAisclarifiedand simplified. IstheFreedomofInformationActoperatinginthewaythatitwasintendedto? Proactivedisclosure WhiletheideaofproactivedisclosureviathePublicationSchemeisaverypowerfulaspect oftheAct,theattitudeofthepublicandpublicauthorities,togetherwiththeinformation searchingandprovisioncapabilitiesoftheinternethavesupersededthepremiseofa PublicationScheme. TheHEsectorisoneofthemostopenofthesectorsofpublicauthoritysubjecttoFoIAand theUniversityiscommittedtoproactivedisclosureofinformation.Evidenceofthiscanbe seeninourupdatedDisclosureLogwhichincludesallrequestsreceived,responsesand disclosures.Neverthelessithasreservationsregardingtheobligationtoadoptapublication scheme. The2004HEModelPublicationSchemewaslargelyfitforpurposesinceitwasappropriate andapplicabletotheHEsector.Thesubsequentconsultationforthenextincarnationofthe HEModelPublicationSchemewasconductedinamannerwhichindicatedthattherevised ModelSchemewouldalsobefitforpurpose.However,theresultsoftheconsultationwere abandonedbytheICOanditinsteaddecideduponasinglemodelschemeforall100,000

3.3.5

3.3.6

3.3.7 3.3.8

3.4 3.4.1

3.4.2 4.0 4.1 4.1.1

4.1.2

4.1.3

FOI 31
4.1.4 4.1.5 publicauthorities. Thisresultedinabestfitschemewhichisnottailoredtotheneedsofanysectorandsince itsrollout,theActsPublicationSchemeprinciplehasbecomelessusefulandtherefore nothingmorethananadministrativeburden. Aftermonitoringourinternetlogs,weobservethatourPublicationSchemeisseldom accessed.ThisisnotsurprisingasPublicationSchemesarenotcomprehensivedescriptions oftheinformationwepublish.Therealityisthatallrecordswithinaparticulardescription canneverbepublishedintheirentiretyduetotheirmagnitude,thecomplexnatureof recordsandthefactthatexemptinformationwillbecontainedinagreatproportionof them.Therecordsreleasedareonlyevergoingtobesubsetsofwhatfallsunderthe descriptionforeachcategory.Thiseffectivelymakesapublicationschemeuseless. RegularupdatesofthePublicationSchemearetimeconsuming;itisdifficulttokeepthe Schemeuptodateandimpossibletoensurethatitisascomprehensiveasitshouldbe. Recommendation:Thatthepurpose,usageandresourcerequirementsofPublication Schemesareexaminedandalesstimeconsumingandusefulalternativeisintroduced. Commercialrequests Therearealargenumberofrequestssubmittedbycommercialorganisationsthataresimply fishingforinformationtoenablethemtobidorcompeteforwork.Thesearetime consumingtodealwithbysheerdintofthenumberreceived. ThesecommercialsurveysarenotmadeforanyofthepurposesforwhichtheFoIAwas enacted(viz:opennessandtransparency,accountability,betterdecisionmakingandpublic involvementindecisionmaking)andarebeingusedbycommercialorganisationsasafree mechanismtoobtaincommerciallyusefulinformationattheexpenseofthepublicpurse. Recommendation:Thatroundrobincommercialsurvey/fishingrequestsarenolonger deemedtoberequestsmadeundertheActorthatachargefortimetakentorespondcan beleviedpriortothedisclosureoftherequestedinformation.

4.1.6 4.1.7 4.2 4.2.1

4.2.2

4.2.3

January2012