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Scottish Government questions role of unofficial platforms in freedom of information


Mark Say Managing Editor

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'FOIA' on wooden cubes
Image source: Mentuk

The Scottish Government has thrown a spotlight on concerns over the use of unofficial technology platforms as part of a consultation on possible changes to the national Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

Its Constitution and Cabinet Directorate has included the questions in the Access to Information Rights in Scotland consultation – set to run until 14 March 2023 – which is aimed at gathering views and evidence on what information rights should look like.

It includes a section on how developments in IT, such as the use of private email accounts and WhatsApp groups, are affecting access to information relevant to the work of public authorities. It says this may result in information being overlooked when handling requests for information and that it poses a risk to compliance with the national FoI Act.

In response, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament has proposed the need for further guidance, and said it may be helpful to amend the legislation to incorporate a specific definition of the term ‘information’.

It also raises the point that the legal position on information held outside official systems may not be universally understood and there is a risk of public servants inadvertently committing offences under the legislation.

This leads to a proposal for a dedicated section within the FoI code of practice with guidance for authorities around how to mitigate the compliance risks in the use of unofficial platforms.

Proposals to extend scope

Other proposals in the document are whether additional third sector bodies and private businesses should be brought within the scope of existing freedom of information legislation, if they carry out work for the public sector or receive public funds, as well as what information should be published proactively by government and public services.

Minister for Parliamentary Business George Adam said: “Scotland has the most robust FOI laws in the UK.

“We want to build on this further by engaging with people and organisations on the development of information rights. We want to understand how existing legislation affects the work of civil society groups and public bodies.  

“The responses to the consultation will inform our work to improve FOI rules and deliver on the Scottish Government’s commitment to openness and transparency.”

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