After the concerns of the Stewart Report on the health risks of electro-magnetic waves emanating from mobile phone base stations, Ofcom has been receiving data from "Mobile Network Operators," or "MNOs," on their mobile phone masts.
This includes, the grid reference of the mobile phone masts, the antenna height, the transmission type, the frequency band, antenna type and transmitter power of the mast. Some of this information was published on a website run by Ofcom (www.sitefinder.radio.gov.uk). The website was designed specifically so that competitors would not be able to use the website to download all the information provided to Ofcom and use it to their commercial advantage. Specifically the location of the mobile phone masts was not disclosed to the detail required by competitors to make use of it, namely the grid references were not provided.
Mr Henton, the Information Manager for Health Protection Scotland, requested information, which had been provided to Ofcom, on all mobile phone masts for all providers (rather than having to enter the postcode for every location that he was interested in) in a format that was easily accessible. Ofcom refused this request and Mr Henton went to the Information Commissioner who decided in his favour.
Ofcom appealed the Information Commissioner's decision to the Information Tribunal who upheld this decision because:
- Although the information disclosure may increase the risk to public safety because of crime and vandalism i.e. theft or vandalism of equipment relating to the mobile phone masts or base stations, this risk did not outweigh the public interest in disclosure;
- In this case any adverse effects on the intellectual property rights of the MNOs is also outweighed by the public interest; and
- The information is not already publicly available because a search on the Sitefinder website would not have yielded the grid reference information and it would have been difficult to access the information other than from many small searches.
This decision has already meant that MNOs have not updated their data with Ofcom since last year thus making the Sitefinder website unreliable, but given the current concerns on the health risks of mobile phone masts the MNOs may come under pressure to cooperate.
Ofcom is now appealing the decision in the High Court