Concerns raised over Staffordshire County Council's published names data

A watchdog has raised concerns over a council that publishes the names of members of the public who request information.

Staffordshire

The Information Commissioner’s Office has contacted Staffordshire County Council over the way it deals with Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The council publishes all the requests it receives including the names of members of the public, media organisation, business or political parties and pressure groups.

The council has hit out at companies and the media for ‘wrongful use’ of the legislation which the authority says is costing taxpayers’ thousands of pounds.

But the Information Commissioner's Office said it has concerns that the council is trying to deter people by publishing names.

An ICO spokesperson said: “Individuals who make freedom of information requests must have their details handled fairly. Many people who have made a request would not expect to have their name linked to published details of the request they have made. If a public authority is considering releasing this information then they must consider why publishing the requester’s name is necessary.

“While there is a need for authorities to be transparent about the freedom of information process, in most cases this would not extend to revealing names. We would be concerned if authorities were releasing people’s names simply to deter requesters."

He added: “At the very least people should be told that their details will be published and given the opportunity to explain to the council why their name should not be disclosed. If having raised it with the authority a person is not happy with the way their details have been handled then we may be able to help.”

A list published by the authority shows the Express & Star has made the most requests, followed by the BBC and the Tay Payers' Alliance.

Costs of dealing with all FOI requests is around £65,000 over the last two years.

Staffordshire County Council's website states: "Often the FOI process is used by some commercial organisations to save time and research costs. We think this is a wrongful use as the information requested is already freely available publicly. The same applies to a growing number of FOI requests from the media. This can save companies and the press money by, for example, reducing research costs but only at a significant cost to the Authority which is unfair to Staffordshire tax payers.

"Whilst FOI legislation makes it difficult to avoid these requests, we believe it is right to publish more information on the cost to council tax payers. We are also more transparent in illustrating, in an appropriate way, where FOI requests are coming from and the associated cost to Staffordshire council taxpayers."

Comments for: "Concerns raised over Staffordshire County Council's published names data"

Glenda

I so wish the Information Commissioner’s Office would look into Sandwell's FOI responses

Some times they do not even acknowledge your electronic FOI requests

If you raise a further question for clarification, its ignored

Then weeks after the official response time you get an answer with parts blacked out and redacted

your requests for an Internal investigation are ignored

I even sent an FOI request to Sandwell MBC to ask if they were going to answer my original FOI request

davidelkington

Good luck to them. The foi act costs tax payers a small fortune to keep up with - council staff spending hours putting information together largely for companies who could access it elsewhere through the open data services but just can't be bothered.

Be interesting to know the ratio of foi requests is on a business vs citizen basis as Id bet my house on the former outweighing the latter!