FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND DATA PROTECTION
Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was passed on 30 November 2000. It gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities, with full access granted in January 2005. The Act sets out exemptions to that right and places certain obligations on public authorities.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides the public with access to information held by public authorities.
It does this in two ways:
- Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and
- Members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Public authorities include Government departments, Local authorities, the NHS, State schools and Police forces. However, the Act does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants, and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records or credit reference file. If a member of the public wants to see information that a public authority holds about them, they should make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The Data Protection Act 1998 came into force on 01 March 2000. It provides living individuals with a right of access to personal information held about them. The right applies to all information held in computerised form and also to non-computerised information held in filing systems structured so that specific information about particular individuals can retrieved readily.
Individuals already have the right to access information about themselves (personal data), which is held on computer and in some paper files under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The right also applies to those archives that meet these criteria. However, the right is subject to exemptions, which will affect whether information is provided. Requests will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
The Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act are the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor’s Department. A few of its strategic objectives being:
- To improve people’s knowledge and understanding of their rights and responsibilities
- Seeking to encourage an increase in openness in the public sector
- Monitoring the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information
- Developing a data protection policy which properly balances personal information privacy with the need for public and private organisations to process personal information
The Data Protection Act does not give third parties rights of access to personal information for research purposes.
The FOI Act does not give individuals access to their personal information, though if a request is made, the Data Protection Act gives the individual this right. If the individual chooses to make this information public it could be used alongside non-personal information gained by the public under the terms of the FOI Act.