Information relating to s12 application

Date published: 27/03/2023

FOI reference: 22/23 153

Date received: 10/03/2023

Date responded: 27/03/2023

Information requested

If possible, please provide the requested information in electronic copies format. 

For my research I want to analyze why some FOI requests were rejected, and why the data processing of some requests would exceed the 'cost limit'(under s.12 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

Firstly, I want to ask some questions about your information storage system.

1.         What is the electronic systems do you use to store operational data such as excel, email and SQL? 

2.         Whether the query can be completed by searching keywords in the interactive interface, or need to use the database for the query.  If there are restrictions on this, please provide them.

3.         What is the educational background (qualifications) of the staff members handling FOI requests – including those who make estimates under s.12 - and can they search the database using a programming language(eg. SQL)? We are not interested in the names of the staff members, merely their qualifications.

I also want to know the common reasons that you may reject requests under s.12.

1.         In the past 5 years, how many requests have been denied under s.12.

2.         For those requests in (1), can you provide a list of any recorded reasons that you rejected the request? (i.e. the detail of the ‘estimate’ you relied upon under s.12)

3.         For those requests in (1), could you please provide us with your search process (or proposed search process) for documents required for these rejected request cases?

Response

For information, SQA are covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and not the Freedom of Information Act 2000. That is the legislation that covers England and Wales.

Firstly, I want to ask some questions about your information storage system.

1.        What is the electronic systems do you use to store operational data such as  excel, email and SQL? 

2.         Whether the query can be completed by searching keywords in the interactive interface, or need to use the database for the query.  If there are restrictions on this, please provide them.

SQA has multiple IT systems that hold information. However, the information requested is considered exempt under section 35(1)(a) (Law Enforcement) of the Act which states, “(1) information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially— (a) the prevention or detection of crime”

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, the public disclosure of information about our IT systems would potentially compromise the security of the services delivered. Providing details of specific systems or products used by SQA would leave the organisation vulnerable to potential cyber-attack.

When applying a section 35 exemption we have to consider the public interest.

We consider that there is likely to be very little public interest in the types of software applications that are used by the organisation. It is much more in the public interest that the security of our IT systems is not compromised. Accordingly, the public interest in maintaining the exemption, outweighs that of releasing the information.

3.         What is the educational background (qualifications) of the staff members handling FOI requests – including those who make estimates under s.12 - and can they search the database using a programming language(eg. SQL)? We are not interested in the names of the staff members, merely their qualifications.

A small, centralised team manage the requests received under FOISA from receipt to issue and these staff are all trained to Practitioner level. A case management system is in operation whereby requests are issued to the appropriate department to identify and provide the requested information to the FOISA team who are responsible for managing and issuing the final response. Case Managers receive awareness training on FOISA.

I also want to know the common reasons that you may reject requests under s.12.

1.         In the past 5 years, how many requests have been denied under s.12.

In the past five financial years, there have been 12 occasions when a section 12 exemption has been applied to requests.

2.         For those requests in (1), can you provide a list of any recorded reasons that you rejected the request? (i.e. the detail of the ‘estimate’ you relied upon under s.12)

The reasons for being unable to provide the information are as follows:

For four of the requests, the information requested was not held in a readily accessible format and new information would have been required to be created involving the creation of programming code to interrogate raw data across a number of datasets.

On three occasions a manual review of a high volume of paper records and electronic files would have been necessary.

On five occasions a high volume of documents would have been required to be located, retrieved, reviewed, and exempt information redacted.

3.         For those requests in (1), could you please provide us with your search process (or proposed search process) for documents required for these rejected request cases?

As explained above, SQA has multiple systems that store information, and we receive a variety of requests. Most searches relate to the production of statistical information or the identification and collation of information held electronically, or on paper.