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ICO clamps down on pseudonymous information requests

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Government organisations are being encouraged to refuse public requests for information if they believe real names have not been supplied, under new guidelines from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The ICO reminded public authorities yesterday that people using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) sometimes use fake names to avoid their requests being seen as "vexatious or repeated". Such requests are automatically invalid and can be refused with no possibility of regulatory redress, it said.

However, in some cases, it added, authorities should use their discretion on fake names. "The guidance urges public authorities to apply common sense." it said. "Where an obvious pseudonym is used, it is good practice for the public authority to consider the request as it may be happy to release the information, even though technically the request is invalid."

While tightening the name requirements for a valid freedom of information request, the new guidelines confirm more liberal criteria for requesters' correspondence addresses. An email address is equal to a physical address under FOIA, the ICO said. Its new guidance is here (pdf).

On Monday The Times reported that the backlog of FOIA requests in government continues to grow. ®

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