Use of unattributed sources in decision-making

Tim Turner made this Freedom of Information request to Information Commissioner’s Office

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Information Commissioner’s Office.

Dear Information Commissioner’s Office,

As you may be aware, there has been discussion online about the apparent similarity between a letter sent to the applicant in ICO case reference FER0451440 and various websites – namely, the Wikipedia pages for Public Service, Monarchy and the Royal Prerogative, as well as the Royal Household’s website and Yahoo Answers. I would like to request any recorded information that would answer the following questions, although I would also welcome any relevant advice and assistance you can provide me with on this case, or on the ICO’s FOI & EIR complaints process more generally.

1) Does the Commissioner have any written advice, policy or procedure on
a) Drafting decision notices or letters?
b) Appropriate third party sources of information for drafting decision notices or letters?
c) Using unattributed quotes or extracts in decision notices or letters?
d) Plagiarism?
In any of the above cases, please provide a copy of the document / its contents

2) Apart from the officer who drafted the letter, did any manager or senior officer check the document before it was signed by the Deputy Information Commissioner? If so, what was their name and job title?

3) Was the Deputy Information Commissioner aware that extracts from Wikipedia and the website of the Royal Household appear to have been used in the letter when he signed it?

4) In how many other cases has Wikipedia been used as a source of information in decision notices or decision letters issued by the ICO since January 1st 2012?

5) In how many cases have extracts from the Royal Household's website or other publication been used unattributed in letters or decision notices in the same period?

6) In how many cases have extracts from another organisation's website or other publication been used unattributed in letters or decision notices in the same period?

I would also like to ask – as a general enquiry if there is no recorded information – whether it is considered appropriate within the ICO to use unattributed quotes from websites, especially the websites of the organisations whose legal status the ICO is investigating, in its formal correspondence.

if you require any clarification, please let me know. If you believe that the fees limit may apply to my request, please contact me before you refuse.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Turner

John Cross left an annotation ()

Request linked to from this blog post: Information Commissioner Criticised for "Cut and Paste" Decision Letter on Royal Household - http://www.confirmordeny.org.uk/?p=334

Information Commissioner’s Office

PROTECT

 

2 April 2013

 

Case Reference Number IRQ0492052

 

Dear Mr Turner

Request for Information
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 1 April 2013. 
 
Your request is being dealt with in accordance with the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. We will respond promptly, and no later than 29 April
2013 which is 20 working days from the day after we received your request.
 
Should you wish to reply to this email, please be careful not to amend the
information in the ‘subject’ field. This will ensure that the information
is added directly to your case. However, please be aware that this is an
automated process; the information will not be read by a member of our
staff until your case is allocated to a request handler.
 
Yours sincerely

Laura Bendall
Sent on behalf of the Information Governance Team

 

show quoted sections

Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire, SK9 5AF
Tel: 0303 123 1113 Fax: 01625 524 510 Web: www.ico.org.uk

Information Commissioner’s Office

4 Attachments

PROTECT

 

29 April 2013

 

Case Reference Number IRQ0492052

Dear Mr Turner
 
I am writing further to our 2 April acknowledgement of your request of the
same date. You asked:
 
“As you may be aware, there has been discussion online about the
apparent similarity between a letter sent to the applicant in ICO
case reference FER0451440 and various websites - namely, the
Wikipedia pages for Public Service, Monarchy and the Royal
Prerogative, as well as the Royal Household’s website and Yahoo
Answers. I would like to request any recorded information that
would answer the following questions, although I would also welcome
any relevant advice and assistance you can provide me with on this
case, or on the ICO’s FOI & EIR complaints process more generally.
 
1) Does the Commissioner have any written advice, policy or
procedure on
a) Drafting decision notices or letters?
b) Appropriate third party sources of information for drafting
decision notices or letters?
c) Using unattributed quotes or extracts in decision notices or
letters?
d) Plagiarism?
In any of the above cases, please provide a copy of the document /
its contents
 
2) Apart from the officer who drafted the letter, did any manager
or senior officer check the document before it was signed by the
Deputy Information Commissioner? If so, what was their name and job
title?
 
3) Was the Deputy Information Commissioner aware that extracts from
Wikipedia and the website of the Royal Household appear to have
been used in the letter when he signed it?
 
4) In how many other cases has Wikipedia been used as a source of
information in decision notices or decision letters issued by the
ICO since January 1st 2012?
 
5) In how many cases have extracts from the Royal Household's
website or other publication been used unattributed in letters or
decision notices in the same period?
 
6) In how many cases have extracts from another organisation's
website or other publication been used unattributed in letters or
decision notices in the same period?
 
I would also like to ask - as a general enquiry if there is no
recorded information - whether it is considered appropriate within
the ICO to use unattributed quotes from websites, especially the
websites of the organisations whose legal status the ICO is
investigating, in its formal correspondence.”

While we do hold some information pertinent to your request, which is
attached, we consider it may be more helpful to adopt a rather more
narrative style in order to answer your questions. Our response follows.
 
Item 1.
 
a). Please find attached copies of the relevant sections extracted from
the ICO’s FOI Procedures manual* which is concerned with the drafting of
decision notices ). Also, find attached a copy of the ICO Style Guide
which is of relevance; a copy of the decision notice template which is
used as a basis for the drafting of decision notices, and the guidance for
the use of this template.
 
b), c) and d). No information is held.
 
Item 2.
 
The relevant ICO Group Manager Dr Jon Manners reviewed the letters prior
to their referral to the signatory.
 
Item 3.
 
No recorded information is held. However, Graham Smith, Deputy
Commissioner and Director of FOI is aware that Wikipedia may be used by
case officers as a general resource, for example to provide relevant
background knowledge about an unfamiliar topic. A public authority’s or
data controller’s own website may also be regarded as a legitimate
resource for the purposes of an investigation.
 
Item 4.
 
We do not record the use of Wikipedia as a source of information, and it
would be necessary to examine the case records in all cases to establish
whether or not it is apparent that Wikipedia has been used as a resource.
We estimate that to review the case documentation in all cases where the
ICO has issued decision notices or decision letters, to determine whether
Wikipedia has been used, would exceed the statutory cost limit. Even then
a search might not reveal the information as the fact that Wikipedia had
been referred to by the case officer might not be recorded on the case
file. A search of our casework records shows that since 1 January 2012 the
ICO has closed 1085 FOIA cases with a decision notice and 140 EIR cases
with a decision notice. To review 1225 cases for evidence that Wikipedia
has been used would exceed 18 hours work, which equates to the £450 cost
limit which applies to the ICO (see further details about the application
of s12, below).
 
Item 5 and Item 6.
 
We do not specifically record the use of websites as a source of
information, and it would be necessary to examine the case records in all
cases to establish whether or not it is apparent that a website has been
used as a resource. We estimate that to review the case documentation in
all cases where the ICO has issued decision notices or decision letters,
to determine whether websites (or, indeed, other publications) have been
used, without attribution, would exceed the statutory cost limit. This is
because a search of our casework records shows that since 1 January 2012
the ICO has closed 1085 FOI cases with a decision notice and 140 EIR cases
with a decision notice. To review 1225 cases for evidence that websites or
other publications have been used would exceed 18 hours work, which
equates to the £450 cost limit which applies to the ICO (again, see
details about s12, below).
 
General enquiry.
 
It is the ICO’s position that any quotes should be properly attributed in
our communications, whether letters or decision notices. I am aware that
the ICO has already communicated this view, and accepts that the failure
to attribute relevant quotes in this case was an unfortunate oversight.
 
Section 12
 
Section 12 of the FOIA makes clear that a public authority (such as the
Information Commissioner’s Office) is not obliged to comply with an FOIA
request if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the
request would exceed the ‘appropriate limit'. The ‘appropriate limit’ for
the Information Commissioner’s Office, as determined in the ‘Freedom of
Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations
2004’ is £450.  We have determined that £450 would equate to 18 hours
work.
 
Whilst the information you have requested may sit within our electronic
and paper filing systems, these systems are not set up to easily provide
us with the type of information you have requested.  By and large this is
not the sort of information we would need for our own day to day business
purposes.  The system allows us to search for the cases we have dealt with
in a number of different ways, such as by the unique reference number the
case was given, the name and address of the person who contacted us and
the name of any organisation or individual that has been complained
about.  We can also search for cases on the basis of the broad nature of
the complaint, but we can only search on a limited number of fixed
criteria which are structured around the main sections of the FOIA, EIR
and DPA.  
 
Unfortunately, I am not able to conduct an electronic search specifically
for the use of Wikipedia or other websites or resources as this
information is simply not recorded. In order to check whether such
resources were used we would have to look at the correspondence and case
documents on every case closed with a decision notice, to see if we could
ascertain whether the case officer consulted such resources, and compare
this to the decision notice to find out whether this use was appropriately
referenced or attributed in the decision notice. Assuming that each search
would take approximately 2 minutes to complete (and it is certain that
many searches would take much longer than that), this would equate to over
40 hours worth of searching. This is well in excess of the 18 hours which
would accrue a cost of £450. 
 
This concludes our response to your request.
 
If you are dissatisfied with the response you have received and wish to
request a review of our decision or make a complaint about how your
request has been handled you should write to the Information Governance
Department at the address below or e-mail
[1][email address]
 
Your request for internal review should be submitted to us within 40
working days of receipt by you of this response.  Any such request
received after this time will only be considered at the discretion of the
Commissioner.
 
If having exhausted the review process you are not content that your
request or review has been dealt with correctly, you have a further right
of appeal to this office in our capacity as the statutory complaint
handler under the legislation.  To make such an application, please write
to the First Contact Team, at the address below or visit the ‘Complaints’
section of our website to make a Freedom of Information Act or
Environmental Information Regulations complaint online.
 
A copy of our review procedure is available here.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Steven Dickinson                 Lead Information Governance Officer
 
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF.
T. 01625 545676 F. 01625 524510 [2]www.ico.org.uk

*note that reference to the ICO's 'Robust complaints handling policy' is
out of date and no longer applies

show quoted sections

Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire, SK9 5AF
Tel: 0303 123 1113 Fax: 01625 524 510 Web: www.ico.org.uk

References

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