The ICO has launched a consultation on how it plans to prioritise Freedom of Information (FOI) complaints.
We have prepared a draft response that explains the context of the consultation, and our current position.
We are releasing this draft before the deadline for feedback so we have time to get input from WhatDoTheyKnow users or other interested organisations/individuals.
If you have any comments on our response, please fill out this survey.
If you’d like to make your own response, you can also respond to the ICO directly. You do not have to have an opinion on all questions to make a response. The deadline for submissions is 5pm on 19th December 2022.
A summary of our planned response:
- The ICO thinking strategically about how to prioritise case work is a really useful exercise; our main concern is whether there are better, higher impact uses of time than those proposed.
- The purpose of the complaints system is not to release information, but to steer the whole FOI regime. Rather than focus on high impact requests, it would be better to look for strategic interventions to unblock common problems experienced by high impact requesters.
- Recommendation: Add a prioritisation criteria and process around administrative silence/stonewalling.
- Recommendation: Use discretion to pay special attention to complaints from authorities where there are repeated problems.
- Recommendation: Build statistical knowledge of the whole FOI system (especially internal review) to support earlier and more effective intervention.
- We disagree in principle with prioritising classes of requesters (e.g.. journalists and civil society organisations), and on practical grounds do not think this is the most effective way of achieving the ICO’s goals.
- Recommendation: reframe these as criteria for the kinds of requests from these groups that would benefit from faster treatment (e.g. time sensitive requests, stonewalling).
- Recommendation: Alternatively, redefine criteria as kinds of activity rather than requester (‘journalism’ rather than ‘journalists’). Make these more porous categories (where many requests may qualify) and only fast-track a certain percentage of them to manage the overall volume.
- Recommendation: As one of these porous categories, if the destination of the request is to a public repository (like WhatDoTheyKnow), this should be seen as a request having a higher public impact.
- The consultation reflects a view that the impact of FOI is primarily through intermediaries, making high impact requests in the public interest. We believe that the public interest needs to be viewed as wider than the result of high impact requests. There is enormous public value collectively even for privately motivated requests.
- Recommendation: Change the definition of frivolous from ‘low public interest in information requested’ to ‘low public interest in pursuing the complaint’.
Our reasoning can be read in full, and there are bullet pointed summaries for each consultation question towards the end of the document if you are looking for inspiration for your own response.
Header image: Photo by Mihai Lazăr on Unsplash
Sign-up for updates about our Freedom of Information work and campaigning.