ICO Approves Tweeted Information Requests

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The ICO says public authorities with Twitter accounts must respond to tweeted FoI requests

Freedom of Information requests submitted via Twitter should be treated like any other, says the Information Commissioner’s Office in its July newsletter.

As long as the requester’s real name is used then the request is valid and should be responded to within 20 days as required by the Freedom of Information Actm, the ICO has said. The real name does not necessarily need to be the twitter user name and can be included in the account’s profile, said the ICO newsletter.

Are you talking to me?

The ICO also clarified that requests submitted via @mentions are just as valid as those submitted by email or letter.

It said that Twitter allows authorities to check for @mentions of itself and so it will receive these requests even if not sent directly to them like an email or letter.

Acknowledging the limitations of responding in 140 characters, the ICO recommends public bodies respond to requests by email or tweet a link to the published response.

The move is not expected to increase the burden on already stretched public bodies because requests are still to the Freedom of Information Act’s guidelines.

Requesters should use Twitter responsibly otherwise it recommends authorities enact the exemptions in the FOI Act for “vexatious and repeated requests”.

Takes two to tango

An ICO spokeswoman told Guardian Government Computing: “Public authorities that proactively use Twitter as a channel to communicate with their audience must recognise that it is a two-way conversation, and that information requests can therefore legitimately be made.”

The ICO newsletter said: “While Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests, this does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid.

“They can be valid requests in freedom of information terms and authorities that have Twitter accounts should plan for the possibility of receiving them.”

If the requester does not give their real name authorities may still choose to respond, but the requester should be made aware that the Information Commissioner will not be able to deal with any subsequent complaint.

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