Freedom of Information requests are a key element of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Any public body could be given an FOI request at any time, which can be a logistical nightmare if the right measures aren’t in place. This blog takes you through how best to manage FOI requests.
What is a Freedom of Information Request?
Freedom of information requests, known as FOI requests, can be made by an individual to access information that a government body, public service, or business that works with a public body has recorded on any topic. This is made possible by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, emails, letters, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
FOI requests are quite popular in the marketing industry, as it can support Digital PR and link building practices.
This shouldn’t be confused with a data projection subject access request which covers an individual’s personal information that is under the Data Protection Act 2018. This law was added after the introduction of the EU’s own GDPR.
Responding to an FOI Request
Businesses have 20 working days to respond to an FOI request – equivalent to a one month response time. Upon receiving the request, as a public body or business working with public bodies, you must consider if the request is:
- Valid under the Freedom of Information Act – a valid request is made in writing, including the name and address of the person/body that is requesting this information.
- Clear and unambiguous – If the request is unclear, you can ask for more clarity. You aren’t required to comply with the request if you haven’t received clarification.
Upon deciding that the request is valid, clear and unambiguous, there are things you can do once you’ve gathered the correct information including:
- Releasing the information, if you have the required information.
- Inform the recipient that you don’t have the information requested.
- Transfer the request to the relevant authority, if they disclose they have the information.
- Withhold the information if you have grounds for exemption if the information is about:
- National security or the armed forces.
- Prevention, detection or investigation of a crime.
- A collection or assessment of tax.
- Judicial and/or ministerial appointments.
It’s illegal to reject an FOI request, not respond to the request or not comply with the law.
Managing an FOI Request
To comply with an FOI request, you must be in a position to gather the information requested in the FOI. Getting this information together isn’t easy for authorities and organisations that deal with vast amounts of paperwork, documents and more across multiple departments in various locations. Because FOI requests cover documents such as meeting minutes, surveys, emails and more, getting together information from various sources makes it a difficult task.
Searching Digitised Documents
In the digital age, the majority of current documents will have been created from a digital platform and shared in this way. However, as public bodies have information stored that would have been created before the digital age, it’s vital that all documents have been digitised in some form. Usually, these will be stored in a searchable database, allowing an FOI officer to collate this information easily and timely via eDiscovery. With a quick search, you will find everything you need based on the information requested.
With emails included as documents that can be searched by public bodies when an FOI request is made, having the right software in place to find information found in emails is vital. The search function in most email services isn’t designed to search a huge amount of emails, and a public body or organisation has thousands of mailboxes to search through.
With email archiving in place, an FOI officer can search through thousands of email inboxes and millions of emails and find the information required for the FOI request in seconds. You can search not only the emails, but the attachments as well, which could contain information that should be included in the FOI request.
The search function in the archive can not only pick out phrases that you send but also similar phrases and potential misspellings made by senders, giving you a greater scope in responding to the information request.
Time is of the essence for every organisation handed an FOI request, and only with email archiving can you ensure you remain compliant with the law. Get in touch with Cryoserver today to get started with email archiving.