Scotland acts over freedom of information requests

20 January 2006
More legal news

20 January 2006 | Helen Gilbert

Suppliers seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act in Scotland will no longer be able to make requests using pseudonyms.

The revised Public Authorities and FOI: questions guidance, published this month by the Scottish Information Commissioner, states an application will only now be valid if the actual name of an applicant is used.

The move is designed to clear up confusion and ensure applicants cannot gain advantage by concealing their true identity. The move follows concerns that some suppliers are using the requests as a commercial intelligence tool to find out about competitors and the tender process or gain access to information about failed bids.

But the change will not rule out all attempts to gain a commercial advantage. Under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act, public authorities are not allowed to enquire into the circumstances of the applicant or to ask for information in order to "verify identities".

"Unless you know for sure the applicant has used a pseudonym, it will be difficult to refuse to deal with an information request on that ground," the guidance states.

It adds that rather than using a false name, applicants have the option to ask a friend or relative to make a request.

John Ashton, director of Freedom of Information Ltd, a company that seeks information on behalf of clients, said: "I think it's a retrograde move to prevent people applying anonymously using pseudonyms. This seizes a little bit of power back from citizens."

He added that many suppliers did not want to risk the delicate commercial relationships with their local authorities by revealing their identities, but said access to information such as internal reports regarding procurement decisions could be useful.

Mohamed Hans, lead procurement adviser for the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy's procurement and commissioning forum, said: "The number of [FOI] requests have been having a big impact on resources. We'll have to wait and see whether this reduces the number of requests."

Details are available from the Scottish Information Commissioner at


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