ICO presses government over FOI email access

| 20/08/2014

(CNS): Following an investigation into the functionality of government's email address for FOI requests, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that at least ten percent of the email contacts given to facilitate requests in government departments were not working. The acting commissioner has raised his concerns that for public authorities to meet their statutory obligations under the FOI Law, these addresses must function properly and that the public must be clear on who is a given authority’s information manager. With administrative issues still plaguing FOI requests, it seems that even in the first instance some authorities are falling short.

“Any problems with the functionality of the designated email addresses could potentially form a serious obstacle to FOI applicants, and the Information Commissioner’s Office decided to investigate and take remedial action,” Acting Commissioner Jan Liebaers explained in relation to the office’s enquiry.

During the review of the email addresses the ICO found a catalogue of reasons why test emails to published FOI addresses were ignored, from confusion over which employee was responsible for monitoring the FOI email inbox to spam filters blocking the mail.

In his report Liebers said that messages sent to the FOI email addresses were not being forwarded to the appropriate employees, that when staff responsible for FOI were moved no new staff was delegated, and for some reason few information managers were receiving the request made via FOI emails to their own in-boxes.

“In the view of the ICO there is no level of FOI service disruption that is acceptable, irrespective of the total volume of requests a public authority might receive. Maintaining and monitoring an email address is not a burdensome task and most of the issues encountered could be rectified with relative ease,” he found.

He also pointed out that while the majority of public authorities did receive and respond to the ICO test mail they may still need to improve some aspects of their internal procedures relating to FOI and their designated FOI email addresses.

“All public authorities should remain vigilant and seek to avoid the pitfalls,” he said. “Each public authority should make sure that the FOI-related duties of IMs are fulfilled on an ongoing basis. For instance, when an IM is absent, for whatever reason, a Deputy IM should be in place to answer FOI requests, and when an IM is assigned to other duties or leaves the public authority, a new IM should be appointed, and given appropriate procedural and technical access to fulfill that important role.”

Liebaers made a number of recommendations in his report which included written clear, consistent and accountable internal procedures to ensure that upon appointment an IM is clearly advised of their duties and responsibilities and provided with appropriate training. He said that an IM’s duties and responsibilities must be transferred to the Deputy IM or another employee when the IM takes up another position, is assigned other duties or leaves their position with the public authority, or is absent for any other reason.

He said that emails sent to the public authority’s designated FOI address should go requests are being received by more than one person at any given time in order for government entities to facilitate rather than hinder transparency at the very start of the process.

See copy of the report below.

Category: FOI

Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I am sure it's just an administrative oversight.  No way the CIG is deliberately dragging its feet over FOI.  Not like they have anything to be ashamed of in terms of finances of general competence.  After all there is only $1b unaccounted for! In a country of this size that's peanuts.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It sounds normal to me, the information keepers dont want to give requested information anyways.

    I was recently allowed to look at a file that I requested, 3 out of 10 pages were missing and no idea how that could happen.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This "confusion" has been occurring for years, not just since the ICO did their test, and I got the emails to prove it.