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"The Cost of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act and 'Vexatious' Requests." M. Cherry. D. McMenemy. Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde. 2012. Download PDF (BibTeX) MSc Information and Library Studies

Purpose: The aim of this study is to investigate the cost and incidence of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests within local authorities and in particular, the cost and incidence of requests which have been defined as 'vexatious' in order to investigate if the negative perceptions surrounding the cost and misuse of the legislation are justified. Additionally, the criteria and guidelines that local authorities are using to define 'vexatious' are also examined.

Design/Methodology/Approach: The approach taken to the research in this study is a survey of the 32 local authorities in Scotland using freedom of information requests as the data collection method Additionally, the appeals data found within the Scottish Information Commissioner's website is examined to ascertain the incidence of 'vexatious' requests that were taken to appeal, in order to reveal whether or not authorities are assigning the 'vexatious' definition appropriately.

Findings: The findings from the survey revealed that none of the local authorities were keeping records of costs relating to FOI requests. However, 80% were keeping records of numbers of requests.

One third of authorities that kept records of 'vexatious' requests had experienced such a request. However, the actual number of 'vexatious' requests received were extremely low.

Analysis of the Scottish Information Commissioner's appeals data revealed that very few (3%) of the requests referred to the Commissioner for appeal cited exemption 14(1) vexatious request. The Commissioner agreed with the 'vexatious' definition assigned by the authority in half of all of these cases.

The findings highlight the difficulties in recording cost data and the general lack of record keeping within organisations. The findings also indicate a very low incidence of 'vexatious' requests and suggest that the 'vexatious' definition may be applied inappropriately by public authorities.

Research limitations/ implications: The research survey examines only local authorities in Scotland so cannot claim to be representative of all public authorities in Scotland or in the UK as a whole. Analysis of the appeals data is limited as it can only examine those requests defined as 'vexatious' which were then taken to appeal so does not consider all 'vexatious' requests. However, it does highlight several key issues for further investigation.

Practical Implications: The research should be of interest to those administering the Freedom of Information legislation within public authorities, Freedom of Information campaigners and others conducting research into the legislation.

Originality/value: This research is the first study to have investigated the cost and incidence of 'vexatious' requests and to have examined the use of criteria and guidelines when assigning the 'vexatious' definition in any detail, so its findings should be of value.

Keywords: Freedom of Information, vexatious, cost, exemptions, Information Commissioner.