The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) recently published new guidance on Section 8(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Just to recap, for an information request under the Act to be valid, the applicant must give a real name and address for correspondence.
The guidance note is devoted to the pressing issue of requests for information from people using fictitious names or pseudonyms (e.g. "Sue D. Nym"). To summarise, an authority does not need to comply with a request where it's apparent that the applicant's real name has not been used and the ICO will not entertain complaints from such individuals either.
For those readers who need a background analysis, or if you unfortunately happen to be called Michael Mouse, you may be interested to know that applicants use a pseudonym or fictitious name in their request for information to a public authority in order "to disguise their real identity". The apparent reasons are usually: a) to avoid being categorised as a vexatious or repeated request; or b) to prevent the request from being bundled with other requests from a single source and therefore triggering the threshold above which charges can be levied; or c) to hide possible intended use of the information requested (although under both the Scottish and English legislation, the purpose of the request should not be a consideration).
The new guidance encourages a "common sense approach", reminding us that the spirit of freedom of information legislation is to encourage openness and transparency. Against this background, the ICO advises that even if a request is not technically valid, good practice nevertheless suggests that a public authority ought to still consider the request, as it may have no issue with releasing the information requested. The guidance also reconfirms that an e-mail address is acceptable as an address for correspondence.
Whilst the words "ministry" and "obvious" may spring into the mind of some readers of the guide, there is perhaps one less evident point that a public authority should note. Next time you receive an apparently invalid request – say, requiring a breakdown of public expenditure on the Bat Signal, which does not carry a genuine Gotham City postmark – there is still a legal requirement to notify the applicant and advise them to give their real name.