Watchdog backs BBC in freedom of information refusal

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ruled that the BBC was justified in refusing requests under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they were vexatious.

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The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ruled that the BBC was justified in refusing requests under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they were vexatious.

The BBC received approximately 90 requests relating to the authority’s hospitality expenditure and employee expenses claims during a short period of time after the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in January 2005.

The broadcaster refused the requests as they were considered vexatious – a decision backed by commissioner.

The watchdog decided that the volume of requests had the effect of harassing the BBC and some members of staff with whom the complainant had corresponded. The commissioner also ruled that the requests could be characterised as obsessive.

Deputy commissioner Graham Smith said: “While giving full support to individuals seeking to exercise the right to know responsibly, the ICO is sympathetic towards public authorities receiving specific requests which impose a heavy burden on their resources, particularly where the public interest in the disclosure of the information is limited.

“The Freedom of Information Act recognises that there are limits to compliance beyond which public authorities are not obliged to go and we encourage the appropriate use of these provisions by public authorities.”

In a separate ruling, the information commissioner said Gloucestershire county council was right to withhold details of a petition following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The request related to an individual’s dispute over his application to renew his housing tenancy. The resident claimed the petition prejudiced his application and that a copy was required so he could pursue legal action.

The ICO agreed with the council that the names, addresses and signatures on the petition were the personal data of third parties and that this information is exempt from general release under the act. The commissioner decided that petitions differ and that, while some are generated in the public domain with no expectation of anonymity for signatories, in this case the signatories could expect that their participation would not become public.

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