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Freedom of information and theses

Context

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) (in Scotland the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA)), gives anyone a right of access to any information held by a public education institution, unless an exemption applies. The right of access applies regardless of who owns the intellectual property rights in that information. This means that anyone has the right to see the information held in any format by any part of the Library, including the right to see theses held by the library, unless refusing access can be justified in terms of a FOIA or FOISA exemption. This would include the right to see theses held by the library. Further information about Freedom of Information and theses is available in the FAQ section below.

If an author wants to restrict access to a thesis they must explain the reason for that restriction in terms of a FOIA, or FOISA, exemption. A number of possible exemptions may apply:
  • The material is due for publication or the author is actively seeking to publish this material.
  • Release of the material would substantially prejudice the commercial interests of any person.
  • The material includes information that was obtained under a promise of confidentiality.
For more information about circumstances in which student work might be treated as confidential please visit this(external link) external site on FOI guidance.

Application to restrict access to a thesis under FOI

The (Institution’s Name) is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This Act gives a general right of access to all information held by the University, including information held in (repository’s name). As a matter of normal practice we will only make your material available in accordance with the restrictions you have placed upon it. However, if someone specifically asks to see it, we must give them access unless the material qualifies for an exemption under the Act. Please indicate which of the following exemptions may apply to your material and explain why:
  1. The material is due for publication or I am actively seeking to publish this material.
  2. Release of the material would prejudice substantially the commercial interests of any person.
  3. The material includes information that was obtained under a promise of confidentiality.
  4. Other (please specify).

Freedom of Information FAQ

1. What is it?
Freedom of Information (FOI) is the right to ask for information held by public sector authorities and the obligation on public sector authorities to supply such information. The main legislation is the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

2. What is a public sector authority?
Public sector authorities are usually organisations funded from central government and include:
  • Universities
  • Colleges
  • Local councils
  • NHS authorities
  • Licensing Boards
For a full list see the FOI websites for England and Wales here(external link) and for Scotland here(external link).

3. What kind of information can be asked for from the public authority/must be supplied by the public authority?
Information can be requested/supplied if it is recorded:
  • On paper
  • On computer files (including email)
  • On video
  • On microfiche.
Public authorities must develop a publication scheme which lists and makes available certain classes of information. These include information on:
  • The public authority and what it does
  • What is spent by the public authority and how
  • The priorities of the public authority and performance measures
  • How the authority makes decisions
  • The services the public authority offers.
Note that where information is not available under the publication scheme it, can still be requested.

4. Who can ask for that information?
Anyone can ask for the information. Requests must be in permanent form (e.g. email; letter; text message) and should be responded to by the authority within 20 days. A charge for payment may be levied.

5. What information need not be made available under FOI?
The general philosophy of FOI is that information held by public authorities should be made available either in a publication scheme or in response to a request. There are a number of
absolute exemptions where a public authority does not need to disclose information. These include:
  • Information accessible to the applicant by other means. For example, if information is part of a publication scheme then the applicant should obtain the information through the scheme.
  • Personal information: if the applicant requires personal information about themselves, then they need to make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act. Information will not be released under FOI if it contains or is data of a third party if disclosure would breach one of the data protection principles. For further information see the Data Protection guidance on the JISC Legal website(external link).
  • Information provided in confidence. For circumstances in which student work might be treated as confidential see JISC Legal - FOI and Student Work December 2005(external link).
There are also a number of qualified exemptions where although there is an exemption, the authority must consider whether disclosure is required in the public interest. These include:
  • Information intended for future publication
  • Health and safety
  • Commercial interests
  • Personal information
If the public authority considers that the data protection principles would not be breached by disclosure but the subject of the information has served a notice under the Data Protection Act that disclosure would cause unwarranted substantial distress or the subject of the information would have no right of access under the DPA then the authority has to consider the public interest when deciding whether to release the information. For further information see the Data Protection guidance(external link) on the JISC Legal website.

6. Can I copy the information I receive under FOI?
The documents provided will be protected by copyright and therefore subject to the limits on copying as set out in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. Permission from the owner of the copyright would be required to make copies of the documents.

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