The purpose of FOI
The FOI Act was passed in 2000 with the full right of provisions coming into play in 2005. It’s major purpose was to enable access to information held by public authorities in order to serve the greater good.
For example it’s aims included:
- Transparency and accountability
- Public participation & informed debate
- Investigative journalism and whistleblowing
- Individual rights and access to personal information
- Research and knowledge creation
These are all positive, but it seems that overtime, these elements have been exploited by commercial organisations using the Act to try and gain competitive advantage.
FOI request refusal
However, did you know that there are certain circumstances under which FOI requests can be refused?
- Excessive cost or burden
- Vexatious requests
- Repeated requests
- Information exemptions
- Information not held
Within information exemptions, sits commercial interests.
Many FOI laws allow public authorities to withhold information that could harm the commercial interests of a third party, including suppliers. This exemption protects confidential trade secrets, pricing strategies, and other sensitive information.
Examples of situations where commercial interest exemption might be applied:
- A company’s proprietary research and development plans.
- Bidding information in a tender process.
- Negotiated terms of a contract with a supplier.
Let’s not lose the value of FOI by allowing companies to exploit the use of FOI requests to benefit their bottom line while using your time and resource to do so.