It was with some amusement in July that Scrapbook reported a pronouncement from the Information Commissioner that Freedom of Information requests can be submitted by Twitter. The edict means that every public authority using the service is now obligated to monitor their accounts for statutory requests under the 2000 Act.

Not seeming the most pragmatic interpretation of the law, we decided to road test this by submitting a request to the 10 Downing Street Twitter account:

 

It should come as no surprise that we did not receive a reply within the required 20 days. So we followed the rules and requested an internal review. This was also met with silence and the matter is now with the ICO in the form of a complaint.

Generating countless stories, we love FOI here at Scrapbook. But onerous requirements on public authorities (which add nothing to real information rights) will only bolster attempts to water-down legislation — as MPs attempted when they voted to exempt their expenses from scrutiny in 2007.

Apparent ignorance as to such practicalities is surprising, however, given the extensive thought the ICO has given to social media.

The Commission’s official policy document on how to use Twitter runs to a mere eighteen pages.

  1. Laurence, don’t knock FoI.

    The spirit of the Act that the Information Commissioner is trying to foster is the idea that all the public’s questions should be answered by default and in a timely manner as a matter of course, and that they should not have to explicitly say “this is an FoI request”.

    It might be onerous for state organisations to answer tweets, but the solution is not to restrict the law but for bodies to learn to publish everything they can pre-emptively and not hoard information until asked.

    On the matter of Larry’s food, given that the staff pay out of their own salaries, it’s probably not FoIable. Probably not the state’s information.

    An interesting FoI might be to identify who “owns” Larry, pays vets bills etc. Of course the status of Larry’s jabs, treatments etc. wouldn’t be protected in the same way it would be for a human

  2. I’m not knocking FOI — quite the reverse. But there are enough problems with authorities not living up to their existing obligations without apparently widening the interpretation of the act.

    For example:
    http://www.taxpayersalliance.org/news/new-schools-network-gove-responds-to-our-foi-request-with-business-plan

    I want to expand information rights and access to taxpayer-funded data. But let’s stick to what is practical. Twitter just isn’t a realistic medium. What’s wrong with email?

  3. Also, isn’t there some exemption for obviously frivolous requests like catfood brands? While I totally agree with your point, I’m not sure this was a valid demnonstration!

  4. Harry

    There is an exemption for frivolous requests, but I believe they still have to respond to the request giving a reason for their refusal to disclose the requested information.

    Expanding FOI requests to twitter was always a silly idea. It’s completely unworkable.

  5. There isn’t an exemption for frivolous requests really – the Information Commissioner does advise that a request that has no serious purpose or value can be refused as vexatious, but in practice, hardly ever finds in favour of an organisation that tries to claim this. Besides, a cat food manufacturer might have a serious purpose in knowing what Larry eats.

    There’s nothing wrong with a frivolous request now and again – for example, the person who asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office how much our embassies spend on Ferrero Rocher should be applauded.

  6. Alan M Dransfield says:

    The latest scam by the Devon CC is to refuse genuine FOIA/2000 requests under EIR -2004.Another get out of Jail free card me thinks.
    The ICO is meltdown since the Dransfield vexatious bullshit which is incidentally before the Supreme Court

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