You can be forgiven for not knowing that today is Freedom of Information Day! You can also be forgiven for not knowing what Freedom of Information Day is, or how the Freedom of Information Act can be used, or why it even matters.
Freedom of Information Day is traditionally observed in America and is part of Sunshine Week, an initiative to promote open government and an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information.
What does this mean for us in the UK? Do we still have a right to access public information?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public 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 data protection subject access request.
Why would I need to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request?
There can be many reasons, You may be wanting to buy an electric car, but don’t know how many charging points are available in your local area and you don’t know if there are plans for more. You can find out under an FOI request.
Or, perhaps you think your local council is spending public funds unnecessarily, you can make an FOI request to see their expenses.
You may be in business and wish to offer your services to a local authority or NHS Trust. You are able to send a FOI request to the organisation asking for details such as whether they outsource your services, if they do you can ask for the term of the current contract and renewal dates, giving you an opportunity to put a proposal together asking to be able to tender when the contracts come up for renewal.
People make FOI requests for all kinds of reasons, not just to be nosey! Perhaps, after reading this post about Freedom of Information Day, you may consider submitting one?
To see some of the types of information that people request under FOI please visit www.WhatDoTheyKnow.com
Or visit The Information Commissioners website for more information.