Feeds

Southampton Uni slaps IP notice on FOI requests

Oh yeah? Who wants to know?

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Secretive management at Southampton University are undermining the spirit of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, if not necessarily contravening the letter.

Reg reader and founder of website publicwhip, Francis Irving, draws our attention to a fairly innocuous request to the University requesting details of the "total amount received by the purchase of printer credit at the University of Southampton for the academic years 2006/7, 2007/08 and 2008/09".

Hardly earth-shattering information. The author of the request, Adam Richardson, was therefore very surprised to receive back from the University – about a month later than the law suggests – a copy-protected PDF document, which requires the recipient to swear that they are indeed the person who made the FOI request before viewing the rest of the document.

The rest of the document bears a watermark saying who requested it.

This makes use of a special PDF feature, which doesn't work on many PDF viewers. According to Mr Irving, "they are asking you to agree to a licence before viewing an FOI response. This makes little sense, as anyone in the world can request the same information."

In addition to these technological barriers, the University also adds an "Intellectual Property Rights Notice" which would appear to be a direct contravention of the law in this area. They claim to "reserve all intellectual property rights" in respect of material provided under the FOI request. The material may not be further used without the "written permission of the University".

This appears to be more than a one-off, as regulars to the FOI request site, whatdotheyknow, have spotted other instances where Southampton have pulled the same trick. A FOI request is now winging its way toward the University authorities inquiring what all this hi-tech protection actually costs.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office agreed that this was very much contrary to the spirit of the FOI legislation. Individuals cannot take it for granted that a second request, identical to one already made, will always be granted: individual circumstances may always play a part.

However, she stressed that best practice was for organisations to publish responses to FOI requests as widely as possible, in order to save the time and expense of duplicate requests. This is a practice that many police forces - Greater Manchester, for instance - have now adopted, with recent FOI requests and their responses up on most force websites.

The restriction on further use of material without the University’s permission will also come as some surprise to journalists, for whom the FOI has become one means to prise the lid off otherwise secretive organisations.

The University have since responded by making a distinction between the information provided and the document containing that information. They write: "The Freedom of Information Act gives applicants the right to have information held by public authorities communicated to them, not to documents.

"Applicants are entitled to use that information so long as they do not breach the intellectual property rights of the public authority: taking the information and using it in a document of their own is acceptable, making use of a document which contains not only the information requested but copyright material is not.

"This approach is an offshoot of a process developed to protect the privacy of personal information contained in responses to requests under the Data Protection Act. The initial cost in terms of time was indeed well spent, as it secured the privacy of staff and students’ personal information: the time taken in relation to FOI requests is negligible (less than five minutes).

"The University adds that it is confident that its FOI process is not incompatible with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act." ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.