Line to take - LTT108 - Digests and Summaries under the FOIA

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  • Section/Regulation: s1, s11
  • Issue: Digests and Summaries under the FOIA
  • Source: Policy Team
  • Details: Agreed by GS
  • Related Lines to Take: LTT78
  • Related Documents: n/a
  • Contact: EW
  • Date: 20/06/2008
  • Policy Reference: LTT108
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT

Line to take

Section 11(1)(c) gives the applicant the right to express a preference for a summary of the actual information requested, to which the public authority must give effect, where reasonably practicable. It does not give the applicant the right to have all the information on any given topic ‘summarised’ to meet the specific information requirements of the applicant.

Further Information

The provisions of s11(1)(c) — the right to have requested information provided (where reasonably practicable) in the form of a digest or summary — are likely to be most useful to applicants who know that a lengthy report has been produced, but only want to know the headline facts.

Dictionary definitions suggest that a ‘summary’ or ‘digest’ is a brief statement of the main points of a piece of information. The ICO interprets summary and digest similarly.

The Scottish Information Commissioner, however, in the case of McMahon v Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service, has interpreted s1I differently.

In this case the complainant requested a complete list of mortality rates of all surgeons, including the name of each surgeon in each clinical speciality. The CSA responded that although it held data on this subject, it did not analyse or configure it in the way specified by the complainant, and that therefore it did not hold the requested information.

The SIC found that because the constituent data parts were held, the information requested by the complainant should be provided to him because, “what is being asked is for the existing data to be presented in a particular digest (as provided by section 11(2)(b) of FOISA) [the equivalent subsection], which it is demonstrably practicable for the CSA to do.”

The ICO is concerned that this conclusion may imply that the provisions of s11 give the applicant the right to bespoke statistical analyses of data. We are of the view that what may be suggested by this decision is that the section 11 right is to have the totality of information on any given topic ‘summarised’ in such a way that it meets the particular information requirements of the applicant.

Our interpretation of the SIC’s finding is that it is dependent on the request being understood as a request for the whole database, “summarised” so that particular information is provided.

It is the ICO’s view that the information in this case will simply be held by a public authority as recorded information, and there is no need to invoke s11. This is explained fully in LTT78.

The ICO line is that s11 should be restricted so that an expressed preference for a summary can only mean a summary of the actual information requested. In this case, the actual information requested was a list of the mortality rates of surgeons with the name and clinical speciality of each surgeon. A summary of that information would therefore be a summary of a list — which would be meaningless.