Case number: 130303
The applicant was a student on a course in UCD which included laboratory interviews as part of the fourth year assessment of students on the course. The schedule for the laboratory interviews was notified to students via three emails, the first two of which correctly listed the dates as (Tuesday - Thursday) 20-22 March 2012 and the final email which incorrectly stated the dates were 19-21 March. The final email clearly stated that the interviews were to be held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which was correct. The applicant contends that when he attended for interview a sign on the door stated that the interviews had been rescheduled over 2 days instead of 3 days and this rescheduling affected his performance in the subsequent interview for a number of reasons. UCD maintains that the interviews were held as scheduled over 3 days, 20-22 March, and contends that despite the fact that the incorrect dates were listed in the final email, as 19 March 2012 was a bank holiday and that it was clearly stated that the interviews would be held Tuesday - Thursday, it was clear that the correct dates were 20-22 March.
In a request dated 19 June 2013, the applicant sought an amendment under section 17 of the FOI Act to records held by UCD, which, he contended, contained incorrect information. He requested an amendment to the following statements: "According to our records, the interviews happened exactly as scheduled and as had been communicated to the students well in advance" and "[t]here is no record of rescheduling". These statements were contained in a letter dated 22 August 2012 from the Associate Professor & Head of the faculty concerned to the Chair of the Academic Council Committee on Assessment Appeals.
In its 18 July 2013 decision on his request UCD stated that the interviews were held on Tuesday 20, Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 March 2012, as specified in the two emails. It contended that "[c]learly there was no possibility of holding an interview on Tuesday 19th March and furthermore Monday 19th March was a holiday". It further stated that as there was "no substantive error in any permanent record affecting [the applicant]" no further action was required.
The applicant made an internal review request on 24 July 2013 and UCD upheld its original decision on 21 August 2013, on the basis that the amendment sought was not in relation to personal information as defined by the FOI Act. It did, however, offer to add the applicant's correspondence to the original record, subject to his agreement. On 27 November 2013 the applicant applied to the Commissioner for a review of UCD's decision. Accordingly, this review is solely concerned with whether UCD was justified in refusing to amend the record having regard to the provisions of the FOI Act.
I note that Ms Joanne Lynch, Investigating Officer in this Office spoke to the applicant by telephone on 24 April 2014 and explained that, in her view, the record that he sought to have amended did not comprise his personal information as required by the FOI Act. The applicant did not agree with Ms Lynch's view and made a further submission to this Office on 24 April 2014. He also spoke to Ms Sandra Murdiff, Investigating Officer on 29 May 2014 in relation to this review. Having reviewed the notes of both conversations and the applicant's submissions, it is my opinion that this review should now be concluded by way of a formal binding decision.
In conducting this review I have had regard to UCD's decisions on the matter and its communications with this Office; the applicant's communications with this Office and UCD; and the provisions of the FOI Act.
This review is concerned solely with the question of whether UCD was justified in refusing to amend the record as sought by the applicant under section 17 of the FOI Act on the basis that the information contained in the record is not the applicant's personal information.
It is important to note that the Commissioner's remit does not extend to adjudicating on how public bodies carry out their functions generally. This Office does not have the authority to investigate complaints against public bodies or to provide an alternative dispute mechanism with respect to the administrative actions of public bodies.
Section 17(1) of the FOI Act deals with the amendment of personal information relating to an applicant. It provides:
"Where personal information in a record held by a public body is incomplete, incorrect or misleading, the head of the body shall, on application to him or her in that behalf, in writing or in such other form as may be determined, by the individual to whom the information relates, amend the record-
(i) by altering it so as to make the information complete or correct or not misleading, as may be appropriate,
(ii) by adding to the record a statement specifying the respects in which the body is satisfied that the information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading, as may be appropriate, or
(iii) by deleting the information from it."
In Case No: 100205, Mr X. and A Public Body(which can be read in full on our website www.oic.ie), the Commissioner stated that he considers that "the onus of proof is on the applicant to provide evidence to support the contention that the information the subject of the application is personal information in the first instance". I note that the applicant contends that he was affected personally by the scheduling of the interviews. However, section 2 of the FOI Act defines personal information as "information about an identifiable individual". The definition contains a list of twelve specific types of information, including information relating to the employment, financial affairs or criminal history of an individual. In my opinion the information in the statements which the applicant is seeking to amend in relation to the scheduling or rescheduling of interviews does not identify any person and is therefore not "information about an identifiable individual" as provided for in section 2. Furthermore, the information the amendment of which has been sought is not captured in the twelve categories of personal information listed in section 2 of the Act. As stated above, the applicant contends he was personally affected by the incorrect information in the final email. In further correspondence with Ms Murdiff on the 6 and 9 June 2014, he also contended that records held by UCD stating that he attended an interview on a specific date comprised his personal information. While the letter of 22 August 2012 contains personal information about the applicant, the two statements which he sought to have amended do not identify any person and therefore, in my view, are not personal information within the meaning of the FOI Act.
Having considered the matter in the light of the Commissioner's statement in Case No. 100205 cited above, I am satisfied that the applicant has not provided evidence that the relevant information is personal to him. Therefore, in my view, the information in question is not personal information within the meaning of the FOI Act.
I note that UCD offered to add the applicant's correspondence to the original record, thereby enabling the applicant to record his disagreement with the content of the record.
As I have found that the information the applicant sought to have changed is not personal information as defined in the FOI Act, I am satisfied that UCD was justified in its decision under section 17 of the FOI Act, and I find accordingly.
Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended, I hereby affirm the decision of UCD in this case.
A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than eight weeks from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.