Line to take - LTT140 - Pseudonyms
- FOI/EIR: FOI
- Section/ReguIation: s8
- Issue: Pseudonyms
- Source: Legal Advice
- Details: n/a
- Related Lines to Take: n/a
- Related Documents: GPE Guidance on Pseudonyms
- Contact: HD
- Date 10/02/2009
- Policy Reference: LTT140
- © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
- Original source linked from here: LTT
Line to take
Section 8 states that a request for information should state the name of the applicant. This means the applicant’s real name. Therefore a request made by an applicant using a pseudonym is not valid and the public authority would not be obliged to deal with the request. Similarly the Commissioner is not obliged to deal with a complaint made using a pseudonym as technically he has no legal authority to consider such complaints.
However, it is the Commissioner’s position that it would be contrary to the spirit of the Act to routinely or randomly check a complainant’s identity. Therefore the Commissioner will only decline to issue decision notices where the name used by the applicant is an obvious pseudonym or it comes to light during the course of an investigation that the request was made using a pseudonym. Where the applicant has used what seems to be an obvious pseudonym, the onus is on the applicant to prove that they are in fact known by that name and thus that they have made a valid request.
Where the requestor has used a name other than an obvious pseudonym, the Commissioner will assume that the applicant has provided his/her real name and expects public authorities to do likewise. If however a public authority suspects the name given is false and refuses to deal with the request on that basis, it will then be up to the public authority to provide evidence to show that they have good reason to believe that the name used is a pseudonym and thus is an invalid request. Further, where the Commissioner receives complaints in such cases, he would wish to use the least intrusive method of checking the identity of the requestor.
Finally, the Commissioner acknowledges that what constitutes an individual’s real name is not always clear cut, i.e. it is not limited to the name that appears on someone’s birth or marriage certificate and it can include a name by which an individual is widely known.
Both public authorities and the Commissioner should use a reasonably informal stance confirming a requestor’s identity where this is in issue.
There is no equivalent to s8 under the Environmental Information Regulations. Therefore applicants can use pseudonyms to make requests under the Regulations.