The Information Commissioner’s Office has published guidance on freedom of information legislation and potentially valuable research information for the higher education sector.
The guidance has been issued following recommendations made in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on the disclosure of data about climate change involving the University of East Anglia.
Last December, the University of East Anglia, which was embroiled in the "climategate" email scandal, signed a commitment with the Information Commissioner to be much more responsive to Freedom of Information requests.
The university had come under heavy criticism from MPs after it failed to respond to FOI requests to reveal emails between its scientists.
The ICO guidance aims to increase academics’ and researchers’ understanding of freedom of information legislation and help FOI practitioners comply with their legal obligations.
ICO head of policy delivery Steve Wood said: “We appreciate the distinctive challenges that FOI requests can pose. This guidance should help institutions to understand when they can apply exemptions to protect important research information.”
The guidance covers key areas including public interest, commercial information, internal "free and frank discussion", potentially unfair requests designed to disrupt the work of a body, proactive disclosure, and the use of personal email accounts to store information that could be covered by FOI requests.