How to make the information available
The Freedom of Information Act allows applicants to express a preference about the form in which information is provided. If sections of the document are exempt, these must be removed or 'redacted'.
The right of access in the Freedom of Information Act is to information not documents. However, if the requester asks for the information to be made available in a particular way, you must comply with this so far as is reasonably practical.
Means of disclosure
Once a decision has been taken to release information, the key consideration for an authority is the form in which it is to be released. Public authorities will hold information that is covered by the right of access under the Act in many different forms. Applicants may request information that is included in minutes of meetings, emails, maps, audio recordings, video recordings and information held in any format by your department.
Sometimes applicants will request information in a particular form, perhaps asking for a copy of the minutes of a particular meeting. If it is reasonable to comply with an applicant's request as to the form in which information is disclosed, you are obliged to comply with that request.
If the applicant requests a copy of the information in a permanent form (or any other form acceptable to them), a summary or digest of the information, or to inspect a record containing the information, you must, when considering whether you can release the information, also consider whether it is reasonable to provide the information in the format requested under section 11 of the Act.
When considering whether you can release the information in the format requested by the applicant you should consider:
- whether the format is easily replicable - for example, can you easily copy the maps requested, do you have audio copying equipment?
- the cost of providing the information in the format requested - would providing the information in the format requested by the applicant take the cost of processing the request over the fees threshold. If this occurs, you should write to the applicant, stating that a fee is payable for releasing the information in the format requested. You should also consider whether the information can be released in another format which would not incur a cost. If this is possible, you should alert the applicant to this fact in the same letter.
CopyrightUse of Crown Copyright
Public authorities should be aware that information which is disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act may be subject to copyright protection. If an applicant wishes to use any information in a way that would infringe copyright, for example by making multiple copies, or issuing copies to the public, he or she would require a licence from the copyright holder.
Her Majesty's Stationery Office have issued copyright guidance in relation to Crown Copyright, which is available on Office of Public Sector Information website.
Alternatively you can request a copy of the guidance by contacting the National Archives:
Telephone: 020 8392 5381
Third party copyright
Public authorities complying with their statutory duty under sections 1 and 11 of the Freedom of Information Act to release information to an applicant are not breaching the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The Act specifically authorises release of the information to an applicant, even if it is in such a form as would otherwise breach the copyright interests of a third party. However, the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 will continue to protect the rights of the copyright holder once the applicant receives the information.
Removing information - redaction
Information which should not be released can be deleted from any document, for instance by 'black-penning' the information to be protected. If an applicant has requested all the information in a particular document, but it is necessary to redact some of that information because it is exempt, it is good practice to make it clear that redactions have taken place and cite the relevant exemption as to why the information has been redacted.
It is important to bear in mind however, that the Freedom of Information Act applies to information, and not documents. While the information requested is likely often to be contained in a document, this does not mean that the document has to be released with exempt material redacted from it. Rather, it may be more appropriate to release solely the information that can be released by creating a new document with only that information contained. This is likely to be particularly relevant where the majority of the information contained in the document does not fall within the scope of the applicant's request.
If you are making redactions from electronic documents you need to be aware that technological advances may allow redactions to be reversed. If you have to make redactions to documents which will be released in electronic format, you should consider copying the information to a new document and making an indication where a redaction has taken place, citing the exemption as to why the information has been redacted, and sending this new document to the applicant.
If you consider that redactions have to be made to documents in order to release the information requested you should consider contacting the freedom of information specialist in your department.
For more information see the National Archives' redaction toolkit 'Redaction: Guidelines for the editing of exempt information from paper and electronic documents prior to release'.