Case number: 98015
Access to records - correction of misleading record - whether a binding ruling required.
The requester sought access to records relating to a particular company, which were held by the Department. Access was refused on the grounds that the records were created prior to the commencement date of the Act (21 April 1998) and did not relate to personal information about the requester. On internal review the Department decided that its initial decision was correct. However, it decided to release all the records except one notwithstanding the fact that it took the view that it was not obliged to do so under the Freedom of Information Act. The remaining record was a memorandum from a third party. The requester appealed this decision on the basis that he required access to the one outstanding record. He also considered that information in the records which had been released was incorrect and misleading. He wished the Department to accept that the information in these records was personal information about him and to allow him to exercise his right to amend these records under section 17 of the Act. Following the commencement of the review by the Information Commissioner the Department agreed to the release of the outstanding record. It also offered to place a statement on file setting out Mr Grange's version of the facts. The requester did not wish to settle the review on this basis. He sought a formal decision from the Commissioner to the effect that the records contained personal information about him and that he had a right of access to the records under the Act.
The Commissioner noted that all the records had been released and that an amending statement provided by the requester would be placed on the file. He decided that in these circumstances he was not required to make a binding ruling in the case.
Mr Grange applied to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) on 21 April 1998 seeking a report concerning a company, and any documentation in the Department's possession or power. Mr Grange subsequently confirmed by fax that he wanted "all papers and documents that were part of this particular investigation into the company".
The DETE decided that the records in question should not be released as they were created before the effective date of the Act i.e. 21 April 1998 and the information contained in them was non-personal in nature. Mr Grange subsequently sought an internal review stating "that good administrative practice should not be limited to the statutory obligations imposed on public bodies through legislation. The Department could have made the same available outside the Act". He also argued that the information contained in the records was personal information as defined in Section 2 of the FOI Act.
Mr Grange had a number of requests with the Department which raised the issue of personal as against non-personal information and, following some correspondence with the Department, he suggested that rather than seeking an internal review of all the requests he would proceed to review in this case only. The FOI Officer responded by pointing out that he was entitled to a review in all cases if he so wished, acknowledging receipt of the application for internal review in this case and detailing the position with regard to the Department's interpretation of the term "personal information".
The review decision upheld the view that the records in question could not be released under the Act as they were non-personal (relating to a company) and pre-commencement, but nevertheless released all the records with one exception. This record is a memo from FÁS which that body were not willing to release. While acknowledging the action of the Department in releasing most of the records, Mr Grange sought a review on the basis that the records were incomplete, incorrect and misleading and because they were deemed non-personal, he had no rights of amendment under Section 17 of the Act.
Following an initial examination, I noted that the DETE had released all records relating to the request except a memo from FÁS which that body had requested should not be released. I contacted all the relevant parties concerned in the matter, seeking submissions from Mr Grange, the DETE and also from FÁS. Following discussion with FÁS, it was clear that that body no longer had any objections to the DETE releasing the record concerned. I contacted the DETE and agreed that this record would be released by them. I also proposed that, as the outstanding issue was the right of correction of misleading, incomplete or incorrect records, they should place an amending statement submitted by Mr Grange if he so wished on the file and make it available to anyone using the file in the future. The DETE agreed with the proposal.
These proposals were put to Mr Grange on 23 July 1998 and, while initially agreeing that this would constitute a fair settlement (Section 34(7) of the Act), he subsequently advised me that he had been in touch with DETE and that both parties were anxious for a decision on the correct interpretation of the term "personal information".
Does not apply in this case.
Does not apply in this case.
Having carried out a full review of the original and subsequent decisions of the DETE in this case, I consider that access to the requested records has been granted by the DETE in the spirit of Freedom of Information. I note that the DETE is willing to release to Mr Grange the record which was withheld in the first instance at the request of FÁS and to afford him an opportunity to provide an amending statement to the DETE in relation to these records.
Therefore, I find it unnecessary, for the purposes of this review to express any opinion on the general issue of the interpretation of the phrase "personal information" in Section 2 of the Act.