The Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires some 100000 public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – including every local authority department, central government agency, health service body and educational establishment – to provide information freely to anyone who requests it.
The act is subject to certain exemptions such as national security.
The Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002 places a similar requirement on Scottish public bodies.
This legislation was a fundamental challenge to the then prevailing common premise within public bodies leading up to the Millenium that everything is secret unless stated otherwise. The working premise is now that everything is public unless specifically exempted.
The culture shifts towards openness and transparency, though without compromising the protection of personal data under GDPR and information protected by other exemptions.
In the 2 decades AXLR8 have been providing systems to help manage the process of managing IRs, we have notice many trends and sturdied teh reports where the law has been tested. First of all the volume of IRs has, on average trebbled since the FOI Acts were enacted. The second trend is for the applicants to ask more complex questions. There can be 5-20 or more sub questions involving sevreal departments in the business and all must be answered in 20 working days. Set against that, some more exemptions have been used to reduce workload and the systems have stepped up with audit trails, triggered emails to expedite the work and alerts when tasks are getting close to deadlines for information collection, collation and redaction activities, for example.
However, it is important that public sector bodies do not just perceive FOI law as a bureaucratic hassle, but as a benefit for them as well as for citizens. Hardly a month goes by where we have not heard on the news how it has helped to improve public trust in government bodies, by creating a more open atmosphere, and this in turn should benefit public sector employees if it improves how they are perceived. It should also contribute to breaking down communication barriers within the public sector, helping agencies to learn from each other to improve their own performance.
Clearly, there are many reasons why an organisation should ensure that the information in its email communications is properly managed. From a practical perspective, email communications now form part of the mainstream business record of an organisation, and should be treated as such. Adequate records are essential for the efficient running of any organisation, irrespective of any legal requirement, and for those records to be of use, they must be reliably stored and capable of being retrieved swiftly and with ease.
No compliance strategy will be effective without proper consideration of how the strategy will be implemented in practice, or of how to demonstrate that compliance. Every compliance strategy will have to involve a consideration of the technical, as well as the organisational means of implementation. Organisations need to take special care to ensure that the email archiving solution they purchase delivers the functionality needed to make the task of compliance as efficient as possible, notwithstanding major considerations like risk mitigation, best practice and corporate governance.