Dear Sir or Madam

Request for information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

I'm interested in the differences in official guidance between FOIA and FOISA with regard to pseudonyms, especially given that they have the same legal wording - Sections 8(1)(b) from each Act follow:

FOIA - "8 Request for information
(1) In this Act any reference to a "request for information" is a reference to such a request which -
(b) states the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence"

FOISA - "8 Requesting information
(1) Any reference in this Act to "requesting" information is a reference to making a request which -
(b) states the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence"

My questions below relate to the article on pseudonyms in your newsletter of December 2005, section entitled "Revised guidance on requests made using a pseudonym" <<http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/web/F...>>

Q1) "As a result of legal advice, the Commissioner has changed his guidance on how public authorities should deal with requests made under a pseudonym. Although the Commissioner previously advised that an applicant could use a pseudonym, updated guidance makes it clear that for an application to be valid, the actual name of the applicant must be used. The Commissioner will not investigate cases where a pseudonym has been used."

Please provide a copy of the legal advice referred to above that resulted in a change to the SIC's guidance on the use of pseudonyms or aliases in (A) requests for information made under Section 1 of FOISA, and (B) in applications for investigation of cases by the SIC (Section 47).

Q2) "Applicants who have made a request under a pseudonym may wish to contact the Commissioner for advice on how to proceed."

Please provide examples of any specific advice given by the SIC to applicants who had made requests under a pseudonym in response to the above newsletter article, or to the changed guidance FAQs, redacting any personal information where necessary.

Q3) I would be very grateful if you could also provide a copy of the document referred to as "INV4366" in your "Investigation and Enforcement Procedures" document (relating to applications made under Section 47(1) by solicitors on behalf of unnamed clients).

Thanking you in advance

Yours faithfully,

Alex Skene

Margaret Keyse, Scottish Information Commissioner

2 Attachments

Dear Alex

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I've attached the two
"undeliverable" emails received from Systems Administrator.

I'll respond to both of your requests and should be able to let you have
the information you're looking for by the end of the week at the latest.

Can I ask you to clarify one point about the request on pseudonyms? You
asked for examples of advice given by the SIC to applicants who had made
requests under a pseudonym - do you want to know the details of the
people we gave the advice to, or is it just the advice you want to see?

Thanks,
Margaret

Margaret Keyse
Head of Investigations

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Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road
St. Andrews
KY16 9DS
Tel: 01334 464610
Fax: 01334 464611

show quoted sections

Dear Margaret,

Just to clarify, it is just the advice I'm looking for, not the details of who asked for it.

I'll reply separately regarding the undeliverable messages.

Thanks again for your help,

Alex Skene

Margaret Keyse, Scottish Information Commissioner

3 Attachments

Dear Alex

Further to your information request dated 9 November 2008, please find
attached the following:

1. the legal advice received by the Commissioner in
relation to the use of pseudonyms.

2. examples of specific advice given by the Commissioner

3. document "INV4366" (the legal advice on requests by
firms of solicitors)

As you'll see from the examples of specific advice we've given, pseudonyms
are not something applicants often ask us to give advice on. Most of the
advice I've provided comes from the time when we changed our policy - in
fact, the three 2005 cases I've sent you were the very cases which led us
to taking legal advice on this point.

I note your comments about there being a difference in official guidance
issued by OSIC and by the ICO. You haven't said what you consider those
differences to be, but if this is something you'd like me to look into
further, please don't hesitate to contact me. From memory, I thought that
the approaches of the two Commissioners were roughly similar.

Finally, you may be interested to know that we received an application
towards the end of last month where the public authority refused to
respond to an information request on the basis that a pseudonym was used.
The applicant has denied that this is the case. The investigation is
therefore focussing on checking the identity of the applicant. This is
the first such case we've dealt with.

Margaret

Margaret Keyse

Head of Investigations

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner

Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road

St. Andrews

KY16 9DS

Tel: 01334 464610

Fax: 01334 464611

EyeSpy left an annotation ()

Thank you Margaret, for you honest and plain speaking reply, in a tone which is helpful and friendly to the requestor (many of those I have been reading, as I have only just discovered this website, seem to be on the defensive and wanting to provide a bare minumim reply).

Your last paragraph highlights an interesting point, as I have read here that an obvious pseudonym is acceptable as it gives the body the choice whether to insist on a name or to respond regardless as a good practice of releasing information. I would assume in your current case, the applicant has used a name, whether pseudonym or not, which is an unlikely given name or the body have been dealing with another individual and fear that this is someone they have already stopped replying to due to for example making multiple similar or vexatious requests.

It is interesting, that the indentity of the applicant is ever an issue, because if the reason for withholding a response is simply related to the identity of the applicant and not related to the nature of the information, then a simple way around this would be for a friend or neighbour etc to make the request using their real name instead....which would result as they are a person not known to the body, in the request requiring a standard response.

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