ICO targets University for FOI procedures


The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has made the University of East Anglia (UEA) sign an undertaking to improve its procedures when it comes to freedom of information (FOI) requests, in a move that is sure to act as a warning to other public sector organisations.

This is the first time the ICO has used its powers for FOI purposes as, up until now, it had only forced commitments to be made when it came to data breaches.

However, following "Climate-gate" where hacked emails showed alleged fiddling of figures for climate change research from the University the ICO felt it necessary to impose the undertaking on the UEA to "ensure it continues to show the necessary commitment to fulfilling its obligations" when it comes to FOI requests.

Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, said: "This is the first occasion on which we have sought formal undertakings to secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act."

"Our tougher enforcement strategy makes it clear that public authorities will face similar action if they fall short of their responsibilities to promote openness and transparency."

The undertaking, signed by UEA's vice chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, makes a pledge to ensure staff get "adequate training" on what they must do when it comes to FOI requests and for the University's current system of archive, storage and retrieval of emails to be reviewed.

A document with full details of the undertaking has been made available here.

The ICO used its fining powers for the first time at the end of last month when Hertfordshire County Council faxed highly sensitive personal details to the wrong recipients and A4e had an unencrypted laptop stolen, containing details of 24,000 people who had sought community legal advice.

The two organisations were fined 100,000 and 60,000 respectively.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

Most recently Jennifer has turned her skills to the political sphere and broadcast journalism, where she has worked for the BBC as a political reporter, before moving to Sky News.