Freedom of Information Law Briefing
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on January 1st 2005.
It gives you the right to ask any public body for all the information they have on any subject you choose. And unless there’s a good reason, they have to give it you within a month. You can also ask for all the personal information they hold on you. Market research information, for example, is gathered by market researchers from a range of sources. Where this information is collected about individual consumers then this information needs to be made available so that individuals that supply this information can check that records kept about them and their opinions are accurate.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has had a profound effect on the public and private sectors alike, and provides citizens, companies, journalists and campaigners with a powerful new tool.
Since 1st January 2005 everyone has a legal right of access to information held by over 100,000 public bodies. The Act is retrospective, so applies to historical documentation as well as that generated since it was enacted.
The Public Sector
The Freedom of Information Act covers almost all public authorities, which are estimated to number around 100,000 (there are a few exceptions). The Act is retrospective, so applies to historical documentation as well as that generated post-act.
The Private Sector
If you own a UK company the Freedom of Information Act will affect you to some degree. Every company is regulated, taxed or licensed by public authorities and many have public sector contracts.
Under the FOIA, unless the information they hold on you is legally exempt, it could be open to the public and your competitors.
And some companies carrying out public functions will eventually be covered by the Act, so will have to open their files to anyone who asks.
Although the Freedom of Information Act allows you right of access to most information held by public authorities, some information remains protected.
There are two types of exemption, absolute and qualified. Some of these, almost all qualified ones (see the FOIA website - opens a new window), require a judgment to be made on whether release of the information will prejudice the interests specified in the particular exemption. This is known as the 'prejudice test' and sometimes as the 'harm test.'
- Guide to freedom of information - the UK's Information Commissioner's Office site (opens a new window)
- The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - The US Department of State site (opens a new window)
- The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - The United States Department of Justice site (opens a new window)
- Freedom of Information in Europe - a review of the European States (opens a new window)
- World Press Freedom Index - The global review of press freedoms & freedom of speech (opens a new window)
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