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January 06, 2011

JISC makes Freedom of Information issues clearer for researchers

Writing about web page http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2010/12/foi.aspx

JISC have announced the launch of their step-by-step guidance document on Freedom of Information issues, aimed at researchers. It is based on a set of questions and answers and could "help researchers address issues of confidentiality, privacy, ethics and security" around their research data. The guide also deals with implications of Environmental Information legislation which might also require a researcher to make data publicly available.

The main message is to involve a Freedom of Information Officer if you get an FoI request. Warwick researchers should refer to our Legal Compliance webpages for further support: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/gov/legalservices/

The first question & answer in the JISC guide is about how to identify an FoI request, and that is not so simple as someone declaring that they are asking and FoI question! The answer also states that "FoI request simply has to be in writing, give the name of the requester and an address for correspondence, and specify the information requested. However, 'writing' is interpreted liberally, and definitely includes email." So, knowing when to get in touch with your FoI Officer will be key to researchers' compliance.

Many researchers' requests for data will not be handled as FoI requests in a formal manner, but if you don't want to provide data to someone who has requested access to it then you may have to consider whether you might be obliged to respond under the terms of FoI, and what circumstances will be legally accepted grounds for refusing. This will be the kind of situation in which researchers should seek the support of an FoI officer.

It is worth noting that, under FoI, institutions are expected to supply the information or a refusal within 20 working days of receiving a request.  The guide describes 3 main grounds for refusal, being cost, repeated or vexatious requests or the applicability of an exemption.

The guide itself talks through different kinds of exemption and circumstances which might apply to researchers' data.


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