The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) established public access rights to information held by public authorities.
The Data Protection Act relates to how personal information (ie information about individuals) is processed and how it may be made available in response to a request. The department is obliged to comply with the data protection principles contained in Schedule 1 of the Act, the processing of personal information fairly and lawfully.
In most cases, the department will process requests for personal information about the person making the request under DPA. A DPA information request is known as a subject access request. Where possible, the department will make any personal information it holds about you available in response to your request. There are very limited circumstances in which the department might release third party personal information in response to a request.
The Freedom of Information Act provides a general public right to access recorded information held by public authorities. The Act is intended to increase transparency, and improve public trust, in the workings of public authorities. Environmental information is specifically excluded from the provisions of the Act, and similar rights to access environmental information held by public authorities are provided by the Environmental Information Regulations. Regulation 2 of the Environmental Information Regulations provides the definition of what information is considered "environmental", for the purposes of EIR. The general public right to information means that information made available in response to FOI or EIR requests is released to the world at large, and not just the person making the request. It is public information.
Both FOI and EIR impose a duty on public authorities to provide the information requested, where held, unless it can be shown that it is in the public interest to withhold the requested information. It is important to recognise that there are occasions where information is not suitable for release into the public domain. Public authorities must inform those making the request if they hold the information. Where information is not held, there is no obligation on a public authority to create new information in response to a request.
The legislation allows for the application of a number of exemptions and exceptions to the general public right to access information. Only information subject to these exemptions or exceptions may be withheld from the public. Guidance on exemptions and exceptions under the legislation can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website.
Whenever an exemption or exception is engaged, the department will explain the reasons behind withholding the information. All public authorities are required to provide advice and guidance to anyone requesting information, and we will endeavour to do so whenever necessary.
Section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act committed public authorities to proactively making information available to the general public. The department is obliged to:
- adopt and maintain a scheme which related to publishing information and have that scheme approved by the Information Commissioner
- publish information in line with that scheme
- review the scheme from time to time
The department makes information available in line with the relevant ICO's definition document.
Where possible, we will make information available in electronic format on our website. If you are interested in information held by the department, we would recommend investigation to see if this information is in the Publication Scheme.
Certain large documents and maps or drawings may only be available to view in person. If you need to view information in person, you should contact the department to arrange a viewing in the office where the information is held.
Information made available through the Publication Scheme is subject to the same public interest consideration under FOI and EIR as a request made to the department.
Making a request
While the department does make available a wide range of information through its Publication Scheme, not all recorded information held by the department is accessible in this way. Other information can be made available on request.
Whether you are making a DPA subject access request or an FOI/EIR request, please specify, in as much detail as you can, the information that you require. This will make it much easier for the department to provide you with the information that you want, and will reduce the likelihood that we will have to contact you to seek clarification, thus delaying our response.
Once the department receives your request we normally have 40 calendar days to respond DPA subject access requests and 20 working days for FOI/EIR requests. However, there are circumstances when these deadlines may be extended (eg when the department must ask for clarification of the request).
The supply of documents under FOI/EIR, including the Publication Scheme, does not give the recipient or organisation that receives it the automatic right to reuse it in any way that would infringe copyright. Information supplied continues to be protected by copyright. Individuals are free to use it for their own purposes, including for private study and non-commercial research, and for any other purpose authorised by an exception in current copyright law. Documents (except photographs) can also be used in the UK without requiring permission for the purposes of news reporting. Any other re-use, for example commercial publication, would require the permission of the copyright holder.
The information is subject to Crown Copyright. It is possible to re-use the information but in order to do so, you must comply with the terms of the Open Government Licence. The Licence can be viewed on the National Archives website or via the following link:
Copyright in other documents may rest with a third party. For information about obtaining permission from a third party please see the Intellectual Property Office’s website:
If you would like to make a request for information, or wish to complain about the handling of an information request, please feel free to contact the DfI Information Management Unit.