Saturday, 20 August 2011

FOI REQUESTS CAN BE MADE BY TWITTER, SAYS ICO

© Colevito Mambembe and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.


According to a monthly newsletter sent out by the Information Commissioner's Office last month, people can now submit FOI requests via Twitter. What will this mean, I wonder, for Thanet Council’s decision to only allow accredited media sources to make queries to their press office? Everybody else, need I remind you, is encouraged to submit FOI requests by e-mail instead to foi@thanet.gov.uk, leading to a process which takes up to a month to be dealt with. But since the ICO – a government quango – now approves of tweeting FOI requests to local government authorities (like @ThanetCouncil), will that be a more efficient way of allowing bloggers to make FOI requests?

Sure, it might be difficult to condense a question down to 140 characters, but generally speaking, I’m curious about what Thanet Council’s opinion of this is. Could there come a time when Thanet Council will be sent tweets for information and, what’s more, be obliged to answer them? The ICO certainly seems to think they should prepare themselves for it.

In their newsletter, it states:

“While Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests, this does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid. They can be valid requests in freedom of information terms and authorities that have Twitter accounts should plan for the possibility of receiving them.”

The ICO’s admission appears to pave the way for local governments to adopt a more proactive and responsive approach to utilize social media as a channel for communication, rather than using it as a semi-automated repository for press releases or public service messages. I doubt it will make the FOI process any quicker, but on a local level, it will certainly make it easier for local residents, community activists and bloggers to use Twitter to make FOI requests and apply for information from Thanet Council now that they’re prohibited from making calls to the press office due to not being ‘accredited’ journalists.

I suppose it can’t hurt to give it a go, can it? So... now the Information Commissioner's Office has told us it’s OK to tweet FOI requests, who’s gonna try it out?! Let me know how you get on!

4 comments:

  1. We may be able to Tweet FOI requests, but that will be no guarantee of an answer. Have tried FOI request in writing before and TDC never bothered to reply.

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  2. I find that hard to believe, Mark. I believe there's a legal obligation for local authorities to respond to FOI requests. Mind you, they can refuse on the basis that it's vexatious. What was your FOI request pertraining to? Could it have been considered vexatious?

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  3. You've not seen the worse yet of austerity cuts in the public sector and tying people up with FOI requests for what at a guess are usually trivial reasons must cost a fortune in itself just so someone can fill a few lines in an irrelevant newspaper or blog. Who cares about a few silver spoons owned by the council and the last time they were polished or how much was spent on council staff's Christas meal. There are a lot of retired people in Thanet with too much time on their hands costing those of us who work even more money by their ineptitude.

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