Tag Archive for social media

What we don’t know

FOIMan explains why some truths we cling to about the UK’s FOIA are not quite what they seem.

A few months ago I was delivering some FOI training to a local authority (always available at competitive rates, folks!). I was explaining how far council officers were expected to go when searching for information to answer an FOI request. In particular I stated that if it was known that information had been deleted but still potentially existed on a backup, the backup should be searched.

The council’s FOI officer cautiously picked me up on my assertion. They had, they told me, had a written statement from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that contradicted me. So surely I was wrong?

The truth is that despite what we are often led to believe, there are some aspects of FOI law that are not certain. The legal system has not yet settled on the ‘right’ answer. This is the case when it comes to debates about information held on backups and whether it is considered held. In the example above, neither I nor the ICO are technically wrong; but then strictly speaking we’re not right either. We’re both interpreting the existing law, and both interpretations are arguable.

This is because English law revolves around the concept of precedent. But precedent can only be set by courts that make a decision beyond a certain stage. In a recent Upper Tribunal decision (LO v Information Commissioner, [2019] UKUT 34 (AAC) (29 January 2019)), Judge Jacobs was critical of the Information Commissioner for treating decisions of the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) as ‘authoritative statements of the law’. Strictly speaking, they’re not. When it comes to backups, we only have rulings of the FTT to go on, so there is no definitive answer yet on that issue. Interestingly, on this issue, the ICO choose not to accept the FTT’s approach without question in their guidance.

My latest piece for PDP’s Freedom of Information JournalWhat we don’t know (which you can access here) – looks at this issue in more depth – looking at the backups query, but also a couple of other questions which have not yet been answered definitively – perhaps surprisingly. You’ll see that there are disputes between the ICO, the FTT and the s.45 Code of Practice which will only be resolved if those matters reach the Upper Tribunal. It ends by asking what questions you may have about FOIA or the EIRs – as I’ve mentioned before, we’d like to answer some of your conundrums in a future issue of the Journal.

Social Media and Me

FOIMan reflects on how social media has benefitted his life and career, and considers their impact – good and bad – on individuals and employers. This piece accompanies a guest post at Blog Now.

socmed-ad1Later this year I’ll be celebrating five years of writing this blog and of its accompanying Twitter feed @foimanuk. When I started them, I had no idea of the impact they would have on my life.

Five years ago I considered myself fortunate to have a job that I didn’t hate, but was feeling a bit jaded and not at all sure where I was going career-wise. I enjoyed being an FOI Officer and information rights practitioner, but there wasn’t an obvious route for career progression. If I wanted a new job, it almost certainly meant going somewhere else at the same level, often doing the same things (or possibly doing more for less).

Now I work for myself – training, advising and writing. This year I’ve travelled to Brunei for work, and whilst my work doesn’t usually take me to such exotic climes, it certainly offers variety. And I don’t have a regular commute on a crowded train. Like all jobs, it has its frustrations, but I love what I do now in a way that I wouldn’t have conceived of back in 2010. And it has happened because of social media.

There have been downsides. I’ve got carried away and tweeted things I came to regret. I’ve been upset by reaction to one or two of my blogposts, and occasionally by what other people have written about me on Twitter and elsewhere. When I first unmasked myself, I was very nervous about how it would affect my job. Without the welcome perspective of Mrs F, I could very easily have become addicted and would never have put my phone down.

My experience illustrates the huge advantages and opportunities that social media offer, but also the tremendous risks that they pose to individuals and to the organisations that employ them. We’ve all cringed when a friend has overshared on Facebook, but what happens when they’re a social worker talking about a family they’re working with? What if someone leaves a comment on your website defaming a celebrity or politician? How do you react when your company is at the centre of a Twitter storm – your reputation being destroyed before your eyes? Are you liable if one of your employees posts a photo on your company blog without seeking permission from the photographer?

I’ve been looking at all these questions and others as part of my research for a new training course that I’m running for Act Now Training – Data Protection, The Law & Social Media. It’s a fascinating subject – how do our existing laws cope with new ways to create and share information? What are the implications of so much freedom? What practical steps should organisations take to protect themselves and their employees? The challenge is not finding material to include, but deciding what to leave out.

If you want to know more, please do read my guest post on the Blog Now website and perhaps consider joining me for one of the courses I’m running next month – details are in the Blog Now post or can be found on the Act Now Training website.