FOI and researchers: an update

October 25, 2010

Following on from our earlier post, ‘Panic?  What Panic?  FOI and researchers‘, we’ve noticed that the JISC has produced some FOI guidance for researchers.  Primarily for England and Wales, the resource does however mention the Scottish position.  You can find it at

http://foiresearchdata.jiscpress.org/

and we’d love to know what you think.  Have you used this JISC guide?  Is it useful / does it make sense to you?  Let us know in the comments.

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Panic? What panic? FOI and researchers.

August 10, 2010

With all the recent brouhaha around the forced disclosure of research data, after the University of East Anglia and Queens University Belfast climate-change researchers were required to make their data available whether they like it or not, it seems that Incremental really is working on a hot topic!

However hair-raising the various reports have been for researchers, though, a couple of sensible points have been made, particularly in the Times Higher Education Supplement article and its subsequent reader comments [at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=412475&c=2%5D.

Chris Rusbridge, erstwhile director of the Digital Curation Centre, reminds us therein that in the Queens University case, the request for information was made specifically under the Environmental Information Regulations, which he describes as ‘stricter’. Further, Rodney Breen points out that “the Freedom of Information Act has exemptions to protect data which is collected with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, and data which is commercially sensitive. Under the Scottish Act, there is specific protection for research data. There is no reason why material for which researchers have legitimate need for protection should need to be disclosed.”

I had a look at the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002 and Part 2 (Exempt Information) does indeed say:

27 Information intended for future publication

(1) Information is exempt information if—

(a) it is held with a view to its being published by—

(i) a Scottish public authority; or

(ii) any other person,

at a date not later than twelve weeks after that on which the request for the information is made;

(b) when that request is made the information is already being held with that view; and

(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information be withheld from disclosure until such date as is mentioned in paragraph (a).

(2) Information obtained in the course of, or derived from, a programme of research is exempt information if—

(a) the programme is continuing with a view to a report of the research (whether or not including a statement of that information) being published by—

(i) a Scottish public authority; or

(ii) any other person; and

(b) disclosure of the information before the date of publication would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially—

(i) the programme;

(ii) the interests of any individual participating in the programme;

(iii) the interests of the authority which holds the information; or

(iv) the interests of the authority mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (a) (if it is a different authority from that which holds the information).

I’m (obviously) no legal expert, but I read this as describing certain types of research data as exempt from FoI requests in Scotland, which means, as Chris Rusbridge puts it, ‘This is not all as bleak as it’s painted!’

Clarification, comments, and any differences in the situation for Wales, Northern Ireland and England are, of course, very welcome.