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ICO's blog on its information rights work

Colleagues from the ICO’s FOI Directorate share their experiences and involvement in raising awareness of our regulation of access to information legislation.

Government records communicated through private accounts have always been subject to FOI laws – 4 November 2021

The pandemic placed real and understandable pressures on ways of working across the public sector. Many public servants were forced to work from home, using at times unfamiliar technology, while still working at pace and under immense pressure. At the same time, decisions were being made that reached into all aspects of people’s lives and affected their most basic rights, including whether they could see their friends and family.

The key to the public’s understanding and trust in these decisions was, and remains, transparency about how and why they were needed. Furthermore, it is only through documenting decisions in detail that we can learn the right lessons for the future.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has always been clear: relevant information that exists in the private correspondence channels of public authorities should be available and included in responses to information requests the authority receives.

We’ve recently updated our FOI guidance on official information held in private communication channels. The update reflects the practical realities of some of the changes in our ways of working that have occurred since the guidance was first published in 2013. It now explicitly covers not just private emails, but clarifies that conversations over WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other private channels have also always been covered by FOI when they are used for official business.

The UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has authored an article in the Municipal Journal on this topic. You can read the full article on their website.

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