Friday, 12 August 2011

Freedom of information requests by Twitter!

You can tweet a freedom of information request to public authorities, the Information Commissioner has said. Even referring to the authority's name in an @mention may be effective.

However, for a FOIA request to be valid, you have to:

  1. give your real name, or at least link to it (eg in your Twitter profile) - a pseudonym isn't considered good enough, and
  2. provide an "address for correspondence".

The Information Commissioner asked, but didn't directly answer, the question: does "address for correspondence" include Twitter names?

I'd argue that in the internet age it does, because people can reach you and correspond with you via your Twitter name. (Or indeed via email addresses.)

Furthermore, the Information Commissioner has said, "The authority could ask the requester for an email address in order to provide a full response. Alternatively, it could publish the requested information, or a refusal notice, on its website and tweet a link to that".

All this is good news for transparency, freedom of information and open government generally, and may perhaps be a lesson to those public authorities who are only willing to provide a postal address or a long online web form for accepting freedom of information requests. If they won't provide an email address for FOI requests, then tweet requests to them, some may say…!

If all public authorities were to make available on their websites an easy to find email address for accepting freedom of information requests from the public, it would be so much better for everyone concerned.

All this may perhaps be less good news for staff at public authorities who may now have to monitor tweets. Or maybe they'll just decide to terminate their Twitter accounts…

Note - this is only for England/Wales/Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own Scottish Information Commissioner, who may (or may not) share the Information Commissioner's view.

Via Computers & Law.

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