ICO confirms that Twitter is a valid method of making a request for information under FOI

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed its view that tagging a public authority’s Twitter account in a tweet can be sufficient to constitute a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

This may come as a surprise to a number of public authorities already struggling to manage and monitor requests for information under FOIA.

Making a request
Unlike a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998, a request for information does not need to be made in a particular form, or even identify itself as a request for information. It must simply be made in writing and identify the name of the applicant.

The ICO states that provided the applicant’s Twitter ID or profile gives its real name, that will be sufficient.

Monitoring of @mentions
In many instances, Twitter will be used by public authorities just for information dissemination to the public (for example, for realtime information), and not for engaging in conversations with other Twitter users.

However, given the ICO’s guidance, it is important that public authorities maintaining Twitter accounts monitor their @mentions for potential requests for information. This will apply not just to a public authority’s main Twitter account, but also (potentially) to Twitter accounts maintained by indvidual departments within that authority or (even) individuals, if they Tweet in the capacity of their job.

Note that the ICO’s guidance only applies to FOIA. It does not apply to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which applies to Scottish public authorities. It’s not clear what the Scottish Information Commissioner’s view on this is.

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August 2011
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