Assisting the Applicant
In many Review Reports, the Commissioner refers to the best practice of assisting the applicant. This means responding to access to information requests openly, accurately and completely. Below is a breakdown of what this means.
Individuals may not know about their right to access records in the possession or control of a government institution under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) or a local authority under The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP). Therefore, providing individuals with the information necessary for an applicant to exercise his or her rights under FOIP or LA FOIP is an example of how a government institution can respond to access to information requests “openly”.
Examples of necessary information includes:
- how an individual can submit a formal access to information request,
- the legislated timelines in which an individual can expect to receive a response to the request,
- fees associated with the request, exemptions that may have been applied to records, and,
- the ability of the individual to appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner if he or she is dissatisfied with the government institution or local authority’s response.
Most individuals will not have a sophisticated understanding of what records a government institution or local authority may have. Therefore, my office encourages government institutions and local authorities to keep in close, direct contact with the applicant when processing access to information requests to clarify and maybe narrow the scope of a request. Clarifying a request increases the likelihood that an applicant will receive the records he or she is seeking. Narrowing a request can reduce the fees associated with a request.
Although it may be helpful in clarifying and narrowing access to information requests, government institutions and local authorities should keep in mind that individuals do not need to reveal their motives or reasons for requesting access to records.
The clarification and possible narrowing of an access to information request should occur soon after the government institution or local authority receives a request.
When processing a request, the government institution or local authority should make every reasonable effort to search all locations (including off-site locations) where records that may be responsive might be found. Government institutions or local authorities should establish a search strategy prior to conducting a search. The search strategy undertaken will be helpful in determining if the government institution or local authority has conducted an adequate search for records. Further, government institutions and local authorities should be striving to respond to access to information requests within legislated timelines.
Assisting the applicant and responding to access to information requests openly, accurately, and completely ensures that citizens’ rights under FOIP and LA FOIP are upheld.