Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is Freedom of Information?

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 gives you the right to access records held by FOI bodies. Under section 12(1) of the FOI Act a person who wishes to exercise the right of access shall make a request containing sufficient particulars in relation to the information concerned to enable the records to be identified by the taking of reasonable steps.  The University must give you an explanation if you are not given what you asked for and the decision must normally be made within 4 weeks.

 

What information can a Requester ask for?

  • Any records relating to you personally, whenever created.
  • All other records created after the effective date 21st April 1998 (subject to the provisions of the University’s Records Retention Schedule, which is currently under development)

 

How much does an FOI request cost?

It is unlikely that any charges will be applied in respect of personal records, except where a large number of records are involved.

Section 27 of the FOI Act 2014 provides for fees and charges

Click here for information on fees.

Charges may be applied for the time spent finding and retrieving records, and for any copying costs incurred in providing you with the material requested:

Search & Retrieval Charges

Click here for information on charges.

 

How does FOI affect schemes where TU Dublin charge a fee to see records?

Under FOI, records which are available under an existing scheme, free or for a fee, are excluded from the FOI Act.

Therefore those schemes continue unchanged, and people cannot use FOI as an alternative means of accessing that information.

 

Does a Requester get everything they ask for?

Access to information under the FOI Act is subject to certain exemptions.

Should TU Dublin decide to withhold information under any of these exemption provisions, the specific exemption clause which has been invoked will be clearly explained.

 

What form does a Requester get access in?

They generally gets access in their preferred form: viewing the original, obtaining copies (paper or electronic), or hearing/viewing audio-visual records.

 

What can a Requester do if they are not happy with the decision?

Under the Act, the person who has requested the information has the right to appeal TU Dublin’s decision to a more senior member of staff within the University than the staff member who made the original decision (referred to as an Internal Reviewer).

A Requester can ask for a review by the Office of the Information Commissioner if the decision is still not satisfactory.

The Information Commissioner's decision in this instance is binding.

However there is a right of appeal to the High Court on a point of law.

 

What is a record?

Under the FOI Act, a record includes any papers, memorandum, text or other document, any photograph, film or recording or any form in which data are held (whether manual, mechanical or electronic), and anything that is a part or a copy, or a combination of the foregoing.

 

Is an e-mail a record?

E-mail is a record for the purposes of the Act.

 

What about deleted e-mails?

Provided they are not stored in a back-up system, deleted e-mails may be considered as no longer in the possession of the University.

 

Are electronic copies of documents covered?

Yes, the definition of a record includes any form in which data is held and information in machine readable form.

 

What about draft records?

Drafts of any document, whether in paper or electronic form, are records under the Act.

The question of whether or not part or all of the record may be exempt will depend on the content of the record and the consequences of its release.

 

What about copyright records?

The first question is whether or not they contain any exempt matter (e.g. trade secrets or commercially valuable information).  If they can be released, they can only be viewed rather than copied.

 

How long have records to be kept for?

The FOI Act says nothing about how long to keep records, it simply sets out the rules of accessing records which exist.

TU Dublin's Data Protection Policy provides guidance for retention and destruction of records. The University’s Data Retention Schedule is currently under development.

 

Who in TU Dublin will make the decisions to release records?

TU Dublin has staff who are delegated Decision Makers authorised to make decisions and review decisions under the FOI Act.

In cases of an appeal, a staff member at an equal or equivalent grade as the original Decision Maker will be constituted to review the original decision and make a recommendation thereon to the President.

 

How much time is there for TU Dublin to respond to a request?

Any person may make an FOI Request under the FOI Act, and TU Dublin must normally respond within 4 weeks (20 working days) after acknowledging the request. A request should be acknowledged within 10 working days.

In the case of large and/or complex requests this timeframe may be extended by a further 4 weeks.

Requests for an internal review / appeal of a FOI decision must be responded to within 3 weeks.

 

What happens if the TU Dublin response goes over the time limit?

The request is deemed to have been refused, or the original decision affirmed (if a review). This decision is then reviewable.

 

Can anyone ask for reasons for decisions?

A person who is materially affected by a decision may request reasons for that decision.

 

What if no reasons are recorded on file?

The Head (President) of the University has overall responsibility for compiling a Statement of Reasons (Section 10) within the 4 weeks specified in the Act, even if nothing is recorded on the file.

 

Is the right of access to records retrospective?

For personal records of the public and of ex-members of staff, the right of access is completely retrospective.  For current members of staff, it relates to records created after 21st April 1995. For non-personal records, the right of access is to records created after 21st April 1998.

 

Is the right to reasons for a decision retrospective?

The right to obtain reasons commences from the date which the Act applies to the public body. In the case of TU Dublin, this date is 1 October 2001.  Reasons may be sought for any decision made on or after that date.

 

What about other people or businesses (Third Parties)?

It is possible if there is found to be a greater public interest in releasing than protecting the information.

However the person or business must be consulted to obtain their views and allow them an opportunity of seeking a review of the decision.

 

If Third Parties refuse to agree to release, what happens?

They are able to seek external review of the decision and can put their case directly to the Information Commissioner, thereby bypassing internal appeal.

 

Are the records of Third Parties released before the appeal?

None of the disputed information is released to the Requester before the review process is exhausted.

 

How does FOI affect the Data Protection Acts?

Rights under the Data Protection Acts continue unchanged by FOI.

The fact that they are also available under Data Protection does not exclude them from access under FOI.

Where a conflict arises under the Data Protection Act and the FOI Act, legal advice is that the FOI Act holds precedence.

 

What about parents seeing children's records?

Regulations and guidelines have been issued which set out in detail the issues which should be considered before release of the records of a minor to their parents.

 

Can anyone see the records of a deceased person?

Regulations and guidelines have been issued which set out in detail the issues which should be considered before release of the records of a deceased person.

The Decision Maker has to consider issues such as the relationship of the Requester to the deceased (e.g. executor of the estate and their need for the information for the administration of the estate).

 

What does Public Interest mean?

This is a complex concept, however at its heart it means standards of conduct by individuals or Government for the good of society and well-being of its members, the public good, or benefit of the public.

It does not mean a matter in which the media or the public is interested or curious.

Examples of public interest factors would include openness and transparency of the business of TU Dublin, protecting the privacy of individuals and shedding light on the activities of Government and TU Dublin.