Title – Consultation with the Advisory Council of National Records and Archives
FOI request reference: F0046722
Response sent: September 2016
Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, I am requesting the following information:
- Copies of FOIA final response letters sent in May, June, July 2016, where the request asked for declassification of records which required consultation with the Council on National Records and Archives.
I expect these letters to show the date that the FOI was submitted, the date when the National Archives completed the request, the name of the document(s) requested, details of any exemptions considered and the disclosure decision.
- Copies of Internal Reviews sent in May, June, July 2016, where the request asked for declassification of records which required consultation with the Council on National Records and Archives.
I expect these letters to show the date that the Internal Review was submitted, the date when the National Archives completed the Review, the name of the document(s) requested, details of any exemptions considered and the disclosure decision.
In all cases, please redact the requesters personal data (i.e. name, contact details) from the response/internal review letters.
Many government departments routinely publish such letters on their websites.
According to the Advisory Council’s latest annual report, it considered 278 FOI requests in the last year. Therefore, I am expecting the Archives to have to search for and retrieve approximately 70 FOI response letters (and a smaller number of internal reviews) in a limited three month period.
I expect that these documents will be stored in one folder, and the search and retrieval will be very straightforward.
Furthermore, the documents I am requesting have already been cleared for release (except for requester’s name and contact details), and therefore it should be a very simple request to process.
However, if the retrieval process is likely to exceed the cost limit, I would be prepared to accept a single month of response letters and internal reviews, i.e. July 2016.
Thank you for your recent Freedom of Information Act (2000) request relating to the possibility of obtaining from The National Archives final responses to requests for a) ‘declassification of records’ and b) internal reviews which have required consultation with the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives between May-July 2016. I have handled your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Act gives you the right to know whether we hold the information you want and to have it communicated to you, subject to any exemptions which may apply.
If I may I shall address each of these points in turn. Before I continue I should just like to confirm that in answering this request the assumption has been made that your comment ‘declassification of records’ relates to Freedom of Information Act requests concerning closed records held at The National Archives. We at The National Archives do not ‘declassify records’. Rather we review information requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) with regards to closed records which have been transferred to us by government departments.
The process of the Freedom of Information review undertaken by The National Archives when researching information requests for closed records is separate and different to any ‘declassification’ process. The Freedom of Information Act review process for closed records assesses the sensitivities within the record, whether the information can be released or whether any Freedom of Information Act exemptions apply which if they did would mean the information remains closed. Further details on The National Archives Freedom of Information process and the retention of records by The National Archives can be found on our website.
Additionally several other assumptions have been made in your request in relation to the material we hold and how this is held, such as the information requested is ‘stored in one folder’ and thus easily accessible. Freedom of Information Act requests are tracked and monitored within one system, which records the details of the enquiry and responses sent. However to extract the information requested required a great deal of manual manipulation of data in order to facilitate this request (i.e. not all responses sent for a specific period would be cases that required consultation with the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives and we would have to go into each case to determine this). Therefore as suggested we have focussed our response to your request on one month (July) to determine, locate and extract the information we hold that falls within the scope of your request.
- A) Final responses to requests for ‘declassification of records’ whereby The Advisory Council of National Records and Archives required consultation, May – July 2016 (note the assumption above, this response relates to Freedom of Information Act requests to view closed records retained at The National Archives)
Owing to the high level of manual review I have only been able to concentrate on final responses for the month of July 2016. Please, therefore, find attached a list of 38 final responses to information requests for closed records sent by The National Archives to our enquirers which required consultation with the Advisory Council of National Records and Archives.
As you surmised some personal data has been redacted in accordance with section 40 (Personal Data exemption) of the Freedom of Information Act (2000).
Section 40 exempts personal information about a ‘third party’ (someone other than the requester), if revealing it would breach the terms of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. The Data Protection Act prevents personal information from release if it would be unfair or at odds with the reason why it was collected, or where the subject had officially served notice that releasing it would cause them damage or distress.
In this case the exemption applies because the responses contain personal and sensitive personal information of identifiable individuals (namely individuals who recently contacted The National Archives) and thus are assumed still to be living. These individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy which would not include the release of this information into the public domain. To do so would be likely to cause damage and/or distress and would be a breach of the first data protection principle, which is concerned with the fair and lawful processing of information of this kind.
I should like to note that a review of final responses sent in July 2016 revealed around 220 replies. As you can see it was only necessary to submit a small proportion to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives for their consultation. The remaining 182 replies were responded to either:
– With confirmation the record is to be opened in full – no Freedom of Information Act exemptions apply
– Opened with redactions; most commonly the exemption being applied here would be s.40 (Personal Data)
– The record is to remained closed as an exemption applies which does not need Advisory Council on National Records and Archives consultation (again most commonly s.40 (Personal Data), but also s.41 (Information Supplied in Confidence))
– The enquirer was asked to provide further clarification to their request (it is standard practice and in line with the terms of the Freedom of Information Act to consider an enquiry on-hold whilst further information is being gathered by the enquirer).
Additionally a small number of the remaining 182 where closed due to administrative reasons (such as The National Archives being contacted in error by the enquirer, the enquiry was a duplicate of an already on-going enquiry or the enquirer cancelled the information request).
Please note that barring the redaction of information exemption under s.40 (Personal Data) as described above no further editing of these final responses has been undertaken. These responses have been taken ‘as is’ from the relevant electronic record.
- B) Internal reviews to requests for ‘declassification of records’ whereby The Advisory Council of National Records and Archives required consultation, May – July 2016 (note the assumption above, this response relates to Freedom of Information Act requests to view closed records retained at The National Archives which have gone on to require an internal review)
The National Archives is not required to consult with the Advisory Council of National Records and Archives during the internal review process. As such The National Archives does not hold any information which matches your research request.
The purpose of an internal review is to consider whether the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) have been fulfilled with regards to your original information request. The scope of the review is defined by Part VI of the Code of Practice under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act which can be found at the following link:
Finally I should like to add that the National Archives takes its Freedom of Information responsibilities very seriously. Each information request is studied on a case by case basis and where possible as much information as possible is released.
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request or the decision which has been reached, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests must be submitted within two months of the date of this response and should be addressed to:
Public Services Development Unit
The National Archives
You have the right to ask the Information Commissioner (ICO) to investigate any aspect of your complaint. However, please note that the Information Commissioners Office is likely to expect internal complaints procedures to have been exhausted before beginning their investigation.
I trust this information is of some use to you and I wish you all the best with your research
Freedom of Information Manager
The National Archives