Chapter 6: Protecting privacy

 

Anonymity of officials

One of the agencies with which we consulted felt that the anonymity of officials is an area that should be clarified in guidance as practice amongst agencies varies. While it has become common for information referring to the role of senior officials, such as chief executives or deputy secretaries, to be released, the practice in relation to the release of information referring to junior officials is less consistent.

The Ombudsmen have suggested that anonymity should be reserved for special circumstances such as where the safety of individuals is at issue,214 or withholding is necessary to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions215 or protection of officials from improper pressure or harassment.216 Generally however, they consider that public officials’ names should be available when requested as the information released would normally only disclose the fact of an individual’s employment in the public sector, and perhaps, what they are doing as part of their employment.217

As this is an issue that is common to many official information releases, we agree that it should be canvassed in the development of new and comprehensive guidance supporting the privacy withholding ground, to facilitate more consistent and accepted practices amongst agencies.

R22Guidance on the privacy withholding ground should deal with the extent to which the anonymity of officials may be maintained where information is released.

OIA, s 6(d); LGOIMA, s 6(b).

OIA, s 9(g)(i); LGOIMA, s 7(f)(i).

OIA, s 9(g)(ii); LGOIMA, s 7(f)(ii).

Office of the Ombudsmen “Anonymity of Officials” (2002) 8 OQR 3. See also Information Commissioner’s Office (England and Wales) Data Protection Technical Guidance: Freedom of Information “Access to Information about Public Authorities’ Employees” (25 April 2007); Freedom of Information Act Environmental Information Regulations Practical Guidance “When Should Names Be Disclosed” (15 August 2008).