Thirteen deadly sins: new ICO guidance on vexatious requests

On Wednesday, the ICO launched its new guidance on section 14 (vexatious requests) on Wednesday. This follows the Upper Tribunal’s recent decisions on this exemption (Panopticon passim), as well as decisions such as Salford City Council v IC and TieKey Accounts (EA/2012/0047) concerning reliance on section 14 to avoid incurring unreasonable cost burdens.

The ICO’s long-standing 5 indicators are supplanted by a new list of 13 indicators – though the emphasis remains on their not being intended as pseudo-statutory tests (and thus they are not really ‘deadly sins’). The thirteen indicators are (in no particular order):

abusive or aggressive language; burden on the authority; personal grudges; unreasonable persistence; unfounded accusations; intransigence; frequent or overlapping requests; deliberate intention to cause annoyance; scattergun approach; disproportionate effort; no obvious intent to obtain information; futile requests; frivolous requests.

The guidance addresses such topics as round robins, fishing expeditions and requesters acting in concert/as part of a campaign, all of which arise frequently for consideration by public authorities. There is also a section on “recommended actions before making a final decision” (paragraphs 93-97) which public authorities would be wise to consider with an eye on complaints to the ICO from dissatisfied recipients of section 14 notices.

For discussions of the new guidance, see these blog posts from the ICO’s Deputy Commissioner, Graham Smith, and also from FOI Man.

Robin Hopkins