Information Commissioner publishes freedom of information guidance for personal data

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published new common sense guidance for freedom of information practitioners on how to deal with requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) which relate to individuals’ personal information.
Under the FOIA and EIR an exemption exists to ensure that information is not disclosed if to do so would breach an individual’s right for personal information to be processed fairly under the Data Protection Act. The ICO’s new practical guidance addresses the balance between the requirement to provide public access to official information and the need to protect personal information.

There are often very good reasons for keeping personal information private, however the guidance stresses that information is not automatically exempt from disclosure just because it is personal data. It provides step-by-step advice on the application of the exemption, using examples from the freedom of information ruling that led to the disclosure of details of MPs’ expenses. In this case, it was necessary to disclose some personal information belonging to MPs in order to address the inadequacies of the expenses system. The guidance includes an easy-to-use flow chart to assist FOI practitioners.

In addition to advice on the application of the personal information exemption, the guidance also explains the steps that should be taken when an individual asks for information about themselves under the Freedom of Information Act
and the request must be dealt with as a subject access request under the Data Protection Act.

Also being published shortly is a freedom of information guidance update, ‘Applying the exemption for third party personal data: the Tribunal’s approach in House of Commons v IC & Leapman, Brooke and Thomas’.

The ICO is currently producing a range of new guidance documents on the practical application of the Freedom of Information Act. Existing guidance is also being updated.