Release of Information outside of the FOI Act
Notice No 05
1.1 The Freedom of Information Act specifically acknowledges that FOI is not the only means of accessing information and that nothing in the Act is intended to interfere with alternative administrative arrangements for access:
6(8) "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting or restricting
- a public body from publishing or giving access to a record (including an exempt record) otherwise than under this Act where such publication or giving of access is not prohibited by law".
1.2 Following from this, the FOI Central Policy Unit supports an active approach by public bodies to the disclosure of information outside of the FOI Act. In particular, public bodies should be proactive in the release of non-contentious information.
2. Release of information outside of the FOI Act on request
2.1 Administrative arrangements for release of information outside of the FOI Act can work to the benefit of both the public body and the requesters. Such release enhances the confidence of clients in the body and also allows the body to handle information requests informally without adhering to the statutory processing requirements of the Act.
2.2 Staff require clear guidance from departmental management as to what may or may not be properly disclosed outside of the FOI Act. Accordingly, it is recommended that departments develop instructions for staff clearly specifying the arrangements governing access to broad classes of non-contentious information outside of the Act.
2.3 Such instructions should be specifically authorised at senior management level (preferably not below Assistant Secretary level). Such authorisation will remove any doubt as to whether disclosure of the information is considered to be "duly authorised" for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act, 1963.
2.4 Staff instructions should:
1. identify those records that can be released informally to persons outside of the FOI Act (e.g. certain personal information, personnel records, etc. to the individuals concerned).
2. identify who may be allowed access to the records e.g. only the person concerned in relation to personal information, member of staff concerned in relation to personnel matters
3. identify any exceptions to this general principle (e.g. where information of a third party is contained in the records, an investigation is ongoing, etc.)
4. specify the grades/ divisions authorised to release information
5. where some information is being withheld, give clear guidance that requesters are to be advised of this fact and of their rights under the FOI Act.
3. Release of information under the FOI Act
3.1 Departments are reminded of the importance of ensuring that all staff know that information can only be released under the FOI Act by specific decision makers, designated for that purpose