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Freedom of Information data - not always available

Got an interesting press release from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) this morning about a Vexatious`Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request' to Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive.

Apparently between January and November of last year, someone made 15 requests under the FOI Act from Centro, requesting information on the transport authority's financial relationship with four bus companies.

Centro claims it provided a range of information to the requester.

During November, Centro says it received the 14th and 15th requests and informed the requester that it would not be answering any further questions on this issue on the basis that it already provided detailed responses to the requests.

The requester then complained to the Information Commissioner and asked him to consider whether the public authority had acted in line with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the 15th request.

The ICO says it is "satisfied that replying to the complainants 15th request would have imposed a significant and unreasonable burden on Centro."

The ICO also decided "that the 15th request was tantamount to harassing the public authority and that it was manifestly unreasonable."

The ruling is interesting as it is one of the first that the ICO has made relating to the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force in 2000 and essentially gives citizens the right to ask government agencies and departments for quite specific information.

Provided, of course, that the request isn't against national security interests and doesn't cover commercially sensitive info.

What's crucial here is that the ICO has ruled in an FOI case. It means that, for example, if you were to request your file from the Secret Service under the Act and the boys at MI6 refused you, you now have a channel of appeal through the ICO...