GENERAL INTRODUCTION: THE LAW, INTERACTION WITH OTHER LEGISLATION & COVERAGE
What is the Freedom of information (Scotland) Act 2002?
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is an Act of the Scottish Parliament which gives everyone the right to ask for any information held by a Scottish public authority. The Act came into force on 1st January 2005.
The Act states that any person, regardless of where in the world they live, can receive information that they request from a public authority, subject to certain exemptions for example:
- Personal information which falls under the Data Protection Act 1998
- Commercial confidentiality
- National security
What is meant by a "Scottish public authority" under the Act?
The Act includes all Scottish Public authorities including:
- The Scottish Government and its agencies/
- The Scottish Parliament
- Universities and further education colleges
- Local authorities
- NHS Scotland
- The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
- Police Scotland
Has the Act only been introduced in Scotland?
No. More than 90 countries worldwide now have some form of Freedom of Information legislation. There is also a UK Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Scottish Information Commissioner has produced a comparative table stating the main differences between UK and Scottish Acts and this can be viewed by clicking on the link below.
What sort of information and documentation is covered by the Act?
The Act states that ALL recorded information in any form is open to public scrutiny. This includes:
- Paper AND electronic documents
- Hand written notes and annotations
Does the Act only apply to the administrative and professional service functions at Heriot-Watt University?
No. The Act applies to all the University including the Schools (i.e. teaching) and subsidiary companies.
How do we know what we can and cannot release?
All Public Sector bodies must provide a guide to information which is commonly referred to as a "Publication Scheme". The Scheme sets out the classes of information that we commit to publish routinely and explains how you can access this information.
A Publication Scheme breaks down the information, that we must proactively publish by law, into functional areas e.g. Finance, Procurement, Teaching quality, Student administration and support.
Are the activities undertaken by the Dubai and Malaysia campuses also covered by the FOI and Data Protection Acts?
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Is the Act retrospective? Is there a time limit as to how far back a requester can ask for information from?
The Act is fully retrospective and so a requester can ask for information from any specific date.
What about personal information?
All individuals have the right to request the information held on them by a public authority. "Personal information" normally falls within the remit of the Data Protection Act 1998.
At Heriot-Watt, staff can request to see information that the University holds on them by completing a Subject Access Request form and submitting it to HR. Details can be obtained by clicking on the link below.
Students are also entitled to see all information held on them by the University and this can be done by completing a Subject Access Request form and submitting it to the Academic Registrar. Further information can be obtained here (insert link).
The Data Protection Act 1998 is the responsibility of the UK Information Commissioner. Further information regarding Data Protection can be obtained from the UK information Commissioner's website by clicking on the link below.
So is there any interaction between the Data Protection and Freedom of information Acts?
Yes. Although both Acts are specific in nature, there are cases where there is interaction between them. For example, "personal data" is exempt from release under Freedom of information, but this is not necessarily the case in all instances – it depends on what information is being sought. As a result, all such instances are reviewed on a case by case basis.
If you should receive any information request which you feel falls under either the Freedom of Information or the Data Protection Act, then please contact (insert links)