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Identity of person making a FOI request

There was a short debate in the House of Lords on 15 October 2009 on the subject of whether the names of people making FOI requests should be disclosed to those about whom information has been requested:

Lord Dubs: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consider amending the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to give those individuals about whom information has been requested the right to know the names of individuals or organisations who have made such requests.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government have no plans to amend legislation in this way. Disclosure of the names of individuals or organisations making requests about other individuals would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis under the Data Protection Act, just as personal data falling within the scope of a Freedom of Information request would be. However, any individual who is the subject of an FoI request can make a subject access request, an SAR, under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act to find out the recipients of his or her personal data.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s Answer. It is a lot better than I thought it could possibly be. As a supporter of the Freedom of Information Act, I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that many of us want it to work well but believe that it should work fairly. If investigative journalists are going to have a field day at our expense, maybe we should know who they are.

Lord Bach also referred to the issue of requesters using pseudonyms to make requests:

I remind the noble Lord that requesters, those who request, are required to give their name when making a request. That is a requirement of Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act. If it is thought that a pseudonym is being used to shield his or her identity, it is possible to avoid the request by considering it vexatious.

However, this contradicts what the minister himself said during the FOI Bill’s report stage in the House of Lords on 14 November 2000:

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Internet age has dawned. The Freedom of Information Bill makes provision for an application to be purpose blind. It requires that an applicant must apply in writing, which includes any electronic application, and provide an address. These are commonsense provisions which are necessary to ensure that a public authority can carry out its statutory duty to communicate information to that applicant. The Bill assumes that an applicant will wish to give his real name, but nothing requires him or her to do so or to use any particular name. He can call himself Father Christmas, or even Ralph Lucas, if he desires. In any event, the name is not relevant, as long as the information provided is sufficient to identify the applicant for the purpose of communicating information.

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