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  • Getting personal with Dr’s information

    Posted on February 26th, 2010 admin 3 comments
    Can I disclose that personal information because it's in the public interest?

    Can I disclose that personal information because it's in the public interest?

    An interesting decision has been published from the Tribunal giving more insight into how it approaches the question “personal information”.

    In this latest case the Tribunal has overturned the Commissioner’s initial decision that the personal information could be kept secret.

    It has now ordered the General Medical Council to release documents about a doctor who sat on its Fitness to Practice Committee and got into hot water over his links to the controversial Church of Scientology.

    The Tribunal clearly spelled out the main issue in the case when it said:: “There is an inherent tension between the objective of freedom of information and the objective of protecting personal data”.

    Indeed the issue of how the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act co-exist is something that will keep academics and lawyers busy for years. Freedom of Information gives you a right to have information while the Data Protection Act is a law to stop people giving that information away.

    Ultimately it would appear that a judgement has to be made when a FoI request comes in to decide if the rights of the requestor override the rights of the data subject.

    The three point test that appears to have been adopted is:

             i.            There must be a legitimate public interest in disclosure;

           ii.            The disclosure must be necessary to meet the public interest; and

          iii.            The disclosure must not cause unwarranted harm to the interests of the individual.

    In this case the Tribunal ruled that the public interest was more powerful that the rights of the individual and have ordered disclosure.

    However, the case is still subject to an appeal and so the actual information on which the decision was made have not yet been released.

    Here is a link to the Tribunal’s decision [Ref: EA/2009/0063].

    From a personal point of view I am cheered by the decision as it would seem to strengthen my arguments into the release of the performance objectives of the chief executive of London 2012. If anybody knows how I could contact the applicant, William Thackeray, I’d be very grateful.

    UPDATE: 27.2.10: All the details of this appeal are on WhatDoTheyKnow. Apparently it is the first case from WDTK to reach the Tribunal. Congratulations to both Mr Thackeray and WDTK. Here is a link to the history of the case [link]


    3 responses to “Getting personal with Dr’s information”

    1. This isn’t exactly new although it’s good to see the approach confirmed, at least for now, with the Tribunal. We’ve always applied a variation of the public interest test used for other FOI exemptions to the s.40(2) exemption.

      In order to assess whether release would contravene any of the principles, as per 40(3)(a)(i), you generally end up considering mainly princples 1(a), 2, 6 and Schedule 2 section 6. It’s the process of determining whether release is ‘necessary’ and ‘compatible’ that ends up being a kind of de facto PIT.

      This Tribunal decision should make it easier to ‘persuade’ some, shall we say, reluctant senior managers when it comes to providing some of their personal information and that will certainly make my job easier.

    2. Ganesh Sittampalam

      He made the request on whatdotheyknow, IIRC. He’s certainly very active on there.

    3. Hi Matthew

      Just to let you know that you can contact William (who made his FOI requests via WDTK) via this link:

      The original FOI request:

      I’m fairly sure this is the first FOI request made via WDTK to make it to an IT decision (another came close, but it was withdrawn by the requester)

      Kind regards
      Alex - volunteer

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