all communication between Thanet District Council Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012.

Louise Oldfield made this Freedom of Information request to Thanet District Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Thanet District Council,

I am writing to request information under the Freedom of
Information Act.

I'd like all communication between Thanet District Council Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012.

Our preferred format to receive this information is by electronic
means. If one part of this request can be answered sooner than
others, please send that information first followed by any
subsequent data. If you need any clarification of this request
please feel free to email me. If FOI requests of a similar nature
have already been asked could you please include your responses to
those requests.

Many public authorities release their contracts with private
vendors in line with the Freedom of Information Act. The exemption
for commercial interest under the Act (section 43) is a qualified
exemption, which means information can only be withheld if it is in
the public*s interest. The public have an interest in knowing the
terms of contracts and grants awarded by public authorities,
whether or not public money changes hands immediately.

If you are relying on section 41 (the exemption for legal breach of
confidence) then we would like to know the following:
* When these confidentiality agreements were agreed
* All correspondence and email in which these confidentiality
agreements were discussed.
* The precise wording of the confidentiality agreements

We ask these questions because guidance issued by both the Lord
Chancellor (draft guidance on FOI implementation) and the Office of
Government Commerce (Model terms and conditions for goods and
services) specifically state that public authorities should not
enter into these types of agreements. They go directly against the
spirit of the laws of disclosure. We would also point to the
Information Commissioner*s guidance on accepting blanket commercial
confidentiality agreements: *Unless confidentiality clauses are
necessary or reasonable, there is a real risk that, in the event of
a complaint, the Commissioner would order disclosure in any case.*

Finally, within the law of confidence there is also a public
interest test. Therefore, the information should be disclosed in
full. If any parts are redacted they must be for information that
can be proven to be a legal breach of confidence in court, and only
then where secrecy can be shown to be in the public interest. These
are difficult positions to argue when public money is at stake or
where a public authority is offering a private company a monopoly
to charge its stakeholders.

We would be grateful if you could confirm, in writing, that you
have received this request, and we look forward to hearing from you
within the 20-working day statutory time period.

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

Ref No:46190 / 2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Thank you for your correspondence received 29/10/2012 where you requested
information about Optomen Television Communications.
 
From our preliminary assessment, it is clear that we will not be able to
answer your request without further clarification. 
 
Thanet District Council requires further information in order to identify
and locate the information you have asked for.  In particular, it would be
useful to know  which department you would like us to check with for the
records you require.  We are unable to search emails across the whole
organisation.
 
Once you have clarified your request, I will be able to begin to process
your request.  If I do not receive clarification within three months your
request will be considered to have lapsed.
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
Amanda Buckingham
Information Request Assessor
 

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Dear Amanda Buckingham,

I would like all communications from:

Regeneration
Community Services
Planning
Communications
Councillor Iris Johnston

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

Ref No:46190 / 2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Thank you for your communication of 29/10/2012 requesting information
about all communication between Thanet District Council Officials,
including Councillors and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and
October 29th 2012.
Please be aware that TDC does not have access to Cllr correspondence. 
Please contact Cllr Iris Johnston directly with her part of your request. 
Cllr Johnston's contact details can be found on
[1]http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/mgUserIn...
 
Although we have a Community Services Directorate, we do not have a
department of that name.  We believe your enquiry relates to the 
Community Development department and will be sending them your request, as
well as to the other departments you have listed.
 
The rest of your request is being dealt with under the terms of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 and will be answered within twenty working
days.
 
If you have any queries about this request do not hesitate to contact me.
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
Amanda Buckingham
Information Request Assessor
 

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Dear Amanda Buckingham,

Community Services was the name of the department given to me by the TDC switchboard.

I believe that "Information received, created or held by an individual councillor will therefore be subject to the FOIA if the councillor is acting on behalf of the local authority." This can also be held on private email accounts.

http://www.ico.gov.uk/SearchResultAsHtml...

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Louise Oldfield left an annotation ()

Latest guidance on when are emails subject to FOIA

http://informationrightsandwrongs.wordpr...

Dear Amanda Buckingham,

Please can you confirm you have received my clarification and will be replying to the FOIA request as per the deadline?

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

Dear Ms Oldfield,

FOI: 46190/2217323

I can confirm your clarification was received and has been linked to your case. The Information Request Assessor is currently collating information from the various departments with an aim of providing a response to you by the statutory deadline.

Kind Regards,
Amanda

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Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

Ref No: 46190 / 2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Thank you for your communication received 29/10/2012 where you requested
information about all communication between Thanet District Council
Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between February
1st 2012 and October 29th 2012.
 
We do hold information falling within the terms of your request. However,
we need more time to consider your request.
 
By virtue of section 10 (3), where public authorities have to consider the
balance of the public interest in relation to a request, they do not have
to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the
circumstances.  
 
Thanet District Council has not yet reached a decision on the balance of
the public interest. Due to the need to consider, in all the circumstances
of the case, where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to
the information that you have requested, the Council will not be able to
respond to your request in full within 20 working days. 
 
I hope to let you have a response by 02/01/2013.
 
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the
right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your
original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor,
Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or
send an email to [email address].
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
Amanda Buckingham
Business Support Officer
 

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Dear Thanet District Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Thanet District Council's handling of my FOI request 'all communication between Thanet District Council Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012.'.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, you say the authority needs more time to consider the public interest in disclosing or withholding the information, and you have told me when to expect a response. You have not detailed the circumstances for the delay.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/al...

Yours faithfully,

Louise Oldfield

Dear Amanda Buckingham,

I missed off the following from my request for an Internal Review:

Where any additional time beyond the initial 20 working days is required to consider the public interest, the public authority must still serve a “refusal notice” under section 17 of FOIA within 20 working days of a request even in those cases where it is relying on a qualified exemption and has not yet completed the public interest test. That notice must state the exemption(s) being relied on and, if not apparent, why."

You have failed to issue a refusal notice and have not stated the exemption(s).

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

2 Attachments

 
 
Ref No: 46190 / 2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Thank you for your communication received on 29/10/2012 where you
requested information about all communication between Thanet District
Council Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between
February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012. 
 
The information you requested is now enclosed.  Some email addresses have
been redacted, plus one surname as per data protection requirements. 
There is also one amendment which is due to C4 commercially sensitive
information.
 
Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding. Some of the
emails you requested were held on our previous email system and there were
some difficulties with their retrieval.  We also had to obtain permission
to disclose the content of emails between TDC and Optomen.
 
I appreciate you have asked for an internal review of our handling of your
request. In light of the information now provided could I ask that if you
are still dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you confirm by
email if you still wish for an internal review to be undertaken?
 
Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date
of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed
to: Information Request Assessor, Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil
Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or send an email to [email address].
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Amanda Buckingham
Business Support Officer
 

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Dear Amanda Buckingham,

I'm still waiting for the Internal Review, because I believe it may be possible you have not supplied all of the information requested.

I believe you may have not released all of the correspondence where Thanet Council and Councillor were copied in to correspondence with Optomen Television.

Also, please clarify that you have included in your search Councillor's emails, the official Thanet email address as well as any personal email addresses that may hold the relevant information requested.

Where you are extending time with reliance on section 10(3), you are still required by section 17 to specify which exemptions apply to the information, unless to do so would reveal exempt information. You have not provided these.

The scope in section 10(3) in respect of the time for complying with requests applies only to information where you need to consider the balance of the public interest. If there is some information to which no exemption applies, that information must be released within twenty working days. You failed to comply with this aspect.

Therefore I do require the Internal review to be conducted as originally requested.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

 
15 January 2013
 
Ref No:46190/2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Your confirmation that you still require an internal review of how your
Freedom of Information request has been handled has been received.  This
will now be passed to Mr Harvey Patterson, Corporate and Regulatory
Services Manager to conduct.  Mr Patterson will respond to you as soon as
possible.
 
Yours sincerely,
Amanda Buckingham
Business Support Officer
 
 
 

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Dear Amanda Buckingham,

You last wrote to me on 15th January 2013 acknowledging my request for an Internal Review. I have not heard anything else from you since.

Please note that the provision of personal details to Optomen Television on 01/06/12 are a potential breach of the Data Protection Act.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Harvey Patterson, Thanet District Council

Ref No:46190 / 2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
I refer to your communication dated 29 October 2012 where you requested
information held by the Council with Optomen Television Communications. On
30 October 2012 you clarified your request by explaining that you wanted
copies of all correspondence between Optomen and a number of Council
departments and Councillor Iris Johnston.
 
I note that the Council requested an extension of time and formally
responded to your request on 10 January 2013, by which time you had
already requested an internal review. In the circumstances you were asked
if you still wanted to proceed with a review. You responded on 14 January
2013 confirming that you did for three reasons, which I will address in
turn.
 
1.      The Council did no deal with its request for an extension of time
properly.
 
I agree with your contention that the decision to request more time to
consider the applicability of a qualified exemption, i.e. the public
interest test, nevertheless required the Council to issue a refusal notice
containing a time estimate when it expected to have made its decision. It
would appear that in this case the originating officer adopted the
procedure that applies when a public body requests an extension of time in
order to locate the information requested. I can only apologise for this
oversight which I will log as learning point on the Council’s information
request system.
 
2.      The Council withheld information that it should have disclosed
while it considered the public interest test
 
Again, I agree with you that the request for more time to consider the
public interest test in relation to the some of the information held by
the Council did not authorise the Council to defer the disclosure of other
information relevant to your request where no relevant exemption applied.
This will also be logged as learning point.
 

 3. The Council has not disclosed all the information held by or on behalf
of the Council.

 
You consider that the Council has not disclosed all the information held
by or on behalf of the Council in relation to your request and you suggest
that this is because the Council may not have reviewed the public and
private-mail accounts of Councillor Iris Johnston. In fact the Council has
now reviewed Councillor Johnston’s official e-mail account and found no
information relevant to you request. Moreover, as the Council requires all
e-mail communications by councillors relating to Council administration or
the discharge of executive functions to be conducted through official
councillor e-mail accounts, the question of what  information Councillor
Johnston holds on any of her private e-mail accounts simply does not
arise. In any event the Council has no right of access to the private
e-mail accounts of councillors.
 
Consequently, it is my decision on review that  the Council  has  now
disclosed all  the information relevant to your request apart from  the
redaction  of a number of e-mail addresses for data  privacy  reasons  -
withheld  pursuant to section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
and to the redaction of one piece of commercial sensitive information
which was in fact subject to an obligation of confidentiality (and
therefore  not subject to a  public interest test) - withheld  pursuant to
section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
 
Harvey Patterson
Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
 
 

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Dear Harvey Patterson,

I write in reference to the FOI request made on October 29th 2012 for:
Communication between Thanet District Council Officials, including Councillors and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012.'

In reply to your email dated: February 21st 2013 I would like to make the following points:

- Regarding the personal email account of Councillor Johnston, you will be aware of the latest direction from the ICO:
http://www.ico.gov.uk/news/latest_news/2...

I believe your stance that councillor's private email addressees are not subject to FOI requests is incorrect. It is the information that is subject to requests and not what they are contained in.

- In your reply you state that all relevant information pertaining to this request has now been released. However, it is my contention that there is more information than has been released. For example, TDC Officer, Sam Thomas has sent and been copied in to a far greater number of emails relevant to this request than have been released.

This matter has now been raised with the Information Commissioner.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Harvey Patterson, Thanet District Council

Dear Mrs Oldfield.

Thank you for your e-mail of today's date, the contents of which I note.

The Council provides councillors with Council e-mail accounts for, amongst other things, the conduct of Council business precisely because it has no power to hack into private e-mail accounts of councillors. Consequently, unless there is evidence to suggest that a councillor has been conducting Council business via a private e-mail account, we will limit information retrieval to relevant Council e-mail accounts.

Yours sincerely

Harvey Patterson
Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
Thanet District Council
Tel: 01843 577005

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Dear Harvey Patterson,

I have many emails from Thanet District Councillors conducting Council business on personal email accounts.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Harvey Patterson, Thanet District Council

Dear Mrs Oldfield

I note what you say with interest .

Please provide copies as I am unable to accept your assurances as evidence.

Your sincerely.

Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
Thanet District Council
Tel: 01843 577005

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Dear Harvey Patterson,

I will send you an email separately.

Can you please confirm that you have sent all the relevant information from TDC officers as requested?

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Amanda Buckingham, Thanet District Council

 
25 October 2013
 
Ref No:46190/2217323
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
I confirm receipt of correspondence from The Information Commissioner
concerning your complaint about the response of Thanet District Council to
your FOI request of 29/10/2012.
 
Thanet District Council will be providing you with a revised response
within 20 working days of the date of the Information Commissioner's
letter.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
Amanda Buckingham
Business Support Officer
 
 
 

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Dear Amanda Buckingham,

Thank you for your letter. I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Harvey Patterson, Thanet District Council

 
4 November 2013
 
Ref No:46190/0
 
Dear Ms Oldfield
 
Further to the letter to the Council from the  Information Commissioner
dated 16 October 2013, I write to inform you that as requested by the ICO
I have carried out a further review of your original information request.
 
As you are aware, in the course of conducting the internal review of your
request dated 29 October 2012 and in formulating my review decision, I
procured the interrogation of Councillor Iris Johnston's council e-mail
account but found no information in that account relevant to your request.
Consequently, following receipt of the ICO's letter, I asked Councillor
Johnston to now review her private e-mail account and provide the Council
with copies of any information  held by her relevant to your request of 29
October 2012 (as subsequently clarified), namely:-
 
'all communications between the Regeneration, Community Services, Planning
and Communications services of Thanet District Council (including
Councillor Iris Johnston) and Optomen Television between 1 February 2012
and 29 October 2012.'
 
Councillor Johnston has now responded  to me  to advise  that she has
reviewed her private e-mail account and hold no information relevant to
this request.
 
In the circumstances, it is my decision on further review  that the
Council has now disclosed all the information it holds relevant to your
request, other than the redaction of a number of e-mail addresses 
withheld for data privacy reasons - Section 40 FOIA refers,  and the
redaction of one piece of commercially sensitive information in respect of
which the Council was under an enforceable obligation of confidence -
Section 41 FOIA refers.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of my internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
Harvey Patterson
Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
 
 
 

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Dear Harvey Patterson,

Thank you for your reply dated November 4th. You will be aware that Councillor Johnston and Mr Sam Thomas of Thanet District Council participated in extensive filming with Mary Portas and Optomen Television on June 12th 2012. The information you have released contains no reference to the organising of this filming or the sign off of participation in terms of contracts.

Is the Council sure there is no information regarding arrangements to film and the content of the filming of June 12th 2013?

Yours sincerely,

Louise Oldfield

Harvey Patterson, Thanet District Council

Dear Loiuse

My records show that the information held by the Council relating to Optomen was, subject to a number of redactions, sent to you on 10 January 2013.

Yours sincerely

Harvey Patterson

Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
Thanet District Council
Tel: 01843 577005

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Louise Oldfield left an annotation ()

Harvey Patterson
Corporate & Regulatory Services Manager
Thanet District Council
Cecil Street
Margate
Kent
CT9 1XZ

16 October 2013

Our Ref: FS50488801
Your Ref: 46190/2217323

Dear Mr Patterson

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)
Complainant: Ms Louise Oldfield

The Commissioner writes further to his correspondence of 7 March 2013 concerning a complaint from Ms Louise Oldfield about the response of Thanet District Council to her FOI request of 29 October 2012.

On 29 October 2012 Ms Oldfield requested information concerning, ‘all communication between Thanet District Council Officials, including Councillors, and Optomen Television between February 1st 2012 and October 29th 2012’. The following day Ms Oldfield clarified her request to information held by Regeneration, Community Services, Planning, Communications and Councillor Iris Johnston.

On 27 November 2012 the Council (Ms Amanda Buckingham) emailed Mr Oldfield to confirm that the Council held information falling within the terms of her request but that they needed more time to consider the balance of the public interest (it was not explained why in terms of which exemption(s) were being

considered). The Council stated that it hoped to provide Ms Oldfield with a substantive response by 2 January 2013. On 27 November 2012 Ms Oldfield requested an internal review from the Council, correctly noting that they had not detailed the circumstances for the delay nor provided a proper refusal notice stating the exemption relied upon.

On 10 January 2013 the Council (Ms Buckingham) disclosed some relevant information to Ms Oldfield, advising that some email addresses had been redacted, as had one surname and one piece of commercially sensitive information pertaining to Channel 4. The Council apologised for the delay in response, advising Ms Oldfield that some of the emails requested were held on their previous email system and that there had been some difficulties with their retrieval. Ms Oldfield was asked if she would still like an internal review of the handling of her request.

Ms Oldfield replied on 14 January 2013 to confirm that she still expected an internal review because of the procedural failures of the previous response and because she believed that it was possible that the Council had not supplied all the information requested. Specifically, Ms Oldfield stated that, ‘I believe you may have not released all of the correspondence where Thanet Council and Councillor (sic) were copied in to correspondence with Optomen Television’. Ms Oldfield asked the Council to clarify that their search had included councillors’ emails, the official Council email addresses and any personal email addresses that may hold relevant information.

The Council (Mr Harvey Patterson) provided Ms Oldfield with its internal review on 21 February 2013. Mr Patterson apologised for the failure to issue a refusal notice and provide a time estimate as to when the Council expected to make its decision. He confirmed that this oversight would be logged as a learning point on the Council’s information request system. Mr Patterson also agreed that the Council was not authorised to defer the disclosure of other information relevant to the request where no relevant exemption applied and that this would also be logged as a learning point.

The Commissioner considers that the Council has taken appropriate action, through its internal review, to address the procedural errors and since these have now been logged as learning points by the
Council the Commissioner would not expect to see them repeated in future.

However, the main focus of Ms Oldfield’s complaint to the Commissioner concerns the Council’s stated position as regards the official and private email accounts of councillors.

Addressing the question as to whether the Council had reviewed the public and private email accounts of Councillor Iris Johnston, Mr Patterson stated in the internal review that:

‘In fact the Council has now (suggesting that it had not before) reviewed Councillor Johnston’s official email account and found no information relevant to your request. Moreover, as the Council requires all email communications by councillors relating to Council administration or the discharge of executive functions to be conducted through official councillor email accounts, the question of what information Councillor Johnston holds on any of her private email accounts simply does not arise. In any event, the Council has no right of access to the private email accounts of councillors’.

On 18 March 2013 Ms Oldfield emailed the Council (Mr Patterson) and advised that, ‘I believe that your stance that councillors’ private email addresses are not subject to FOI requests is incorrect. It is the information that is subject to requests and not what they are contained in’. Ms Oldfield also informed the Council that more information was held than had been released, noting that, ‘TCD Officer, Sam Thomas has sent and been copied in to a far greater number of emails relevant to this request than have been released’. Ms Oldfield advised that the matter had now been raised with the ICO.

The Council (Mr Patterson) responded by email on the same date and explained that:

‘The Council provides councillors with Council email accounts for, amongst other things, the conduct of Council business precisely because it has no power to hack into private email accounts of councillors (the Commissioner would note that Ms Oldfield had never suggested that the Council should ‘hack’ into the private email accounts, in the sense of gaining unauthorised access without

consent). Consequently, unless there is evidence to suggest that a councillor has been conducting Council business via a private email account, we will limit information retrieval to relevant Council email accounts’.

Ms Oldfield replied on 18 March to advise that she had ‘many emails from Thanet District Councillors conducting Council business on personal email accounts’. Mr Patterson replied on 19 March to say that he noted what Ms Oldfield said ‘with interest’ and asked her to provide copies as he was unable to accept her assurances as evidence. Ms Oldfield replied on the same date to confirm that she would send Mr Patterson a separate email and asked him to confirm that the Council had sent all the relevant information from the Council officers as requested.

Subsequent to this email exchange Ms Oldfield, due to the fact that she had already referred her complaint to the ICO, provided the Commissioner with email evidence supporting her contention that Thanet District Councillors use their personal email accounts to conduct Council business.

The Commissioner’s guidance on Official Information held in private email accounts is clear in that it states that, ‘Information held in non-work personal email accounts (e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail) may be subject to FOIA if it relates to the official business of the public authority’. The position of councillors is specifically referred to in this guidance as it is stated that, ‘For example, a Councillor may hold information relating to local authority business in his/her private email account on behalf of the local authority’. The guidance goes on to impress the importance of having ‘a clear demarcation between Council business and work for individuals as their local representative’.

The Council’s stated position is that it requires all email communications by councillors relating to Council business to be conducted through official councillor email accounts. This policy is entirely sensible and in accordance with the ICO guidance. Unfortunately, and worryingly, evidence provided by Ms Oldfield shows that this policy is often and indeed apparently routinely, not followed by Councillor Johnston (and possibly other councillors as well).

By way of example the Commissioner would draw the Council’s attention to the following emails provided by Ms Oldfield where Councillor Johnston has used her personal email address:

[Readacted]

The emails referred to above are but some of those provided to the Commissioner by Ms Oldfield and clearly indicate that Councillor Johnston is in the practice of emailing individuals (including fellow councillors) about matters of Council business (her email of 15 June 2012 even uses this term). In doing so, Councillor Johnston is not adhering to the Council’s requirement as stated to Ms Oldfield in the internal review of 21 February 2013.

This means that the question of what information (in terms of Council business information) Councillor Johnston holds on her private email accounts very much does arise, contrary to the assertions of the Council in the internal review. Moreover, the question has far wider implications than Ms Oldfield’s request of 29 October 2012, for if councillors are not adhering to the Council’s email policy then there is clearly a risk that considerable amount of information which is subject to FOIA is not being detected (and therefore not provided) upon receipt of information requests.

Whilst it would not be appropriate for the Council to access the personal email accounts of councillors, it would be both appropriate and necessary for an individual (such as Councillor Johnston) to be asked to carefully search their personal email account for any relevant information which might be within scope of a particular information request. In their email of 18 March 2013, the Council advised Ms Oldfield that, ‘unless there is evidence to suggest that a councillor has been conducting Council business via a private email account, we will limit information retrieval to relevant Council email accounts’.

As is clear from the above emails there is evidence that Council business has been discussed via private email accounts and the Council will need to ask Councillor Johnston (and any other relevant councillors such as Councillors Hart and Watkins) to carefully search their personal email accounts and provide the Council with any information which might be relevant to the request of 29 October 2012 so that the Council can in turn provide this to Ms Oldfield.

More generally, the Council will need to remind and impress upon the councillors the requirement to adhere to the Council’s policy on use of official Council email addresses only for Council business.

Should any councillor fail to do so and continue using their personal email address to conduct Council business, it will need to be made clear to them that such information will be potentially subject to FOIA and will need to be made available upon request (subject to any valid exemption). Moreover, were the Council to provide a not held response to a future request, or only provide some of the information actually held, and were the Commissioner to subsequently discover that in fact relevant information was contained in the personal email accounts of a councillor(s) then this would be a serious matter for which the Commissioner would need to consider more formal action.

The Commissioner would therefore be grateful if the Council would, after making the appropriate checks and enquiries with the councillors noted above, provide Ms Oldfield with a revised response to her FOI request of 29 October 2012, within 20 working days of the date of this letter.

The ICO has closed its file on this complaint but its resolution will remain in our records in the event that Ms Oldfield has cause to contact the Commissioner further about this specific matter. Please note that a copy of this closure letter has been provided to Ms Oldfield for her information.

Should you have any questions or queries about any of the above, please contact me on my direct dial number below.

Yours sincerely

Thomas Thwaites
Senior Case Officer

CC: Ms Louise Oldfield