Freedom of Information Act

Freedom of Information and Environmental Information legislation gives people the right to request access to recorded information held by public sector organisations. This includes requests for research data from universities and publicly funded research organisations.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was established to increase transparency in the public sector. It gives people the right to request access to recorded information held by public sector organisations, or be informed about whether information is held. Research data can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act, but copyright to such data stays with the original researcher.

There are exceptions to the Act, such as:

  • Personal data cannot be requested.
  • Information that is accessible by other means, for example, via a website.
  • Information intended for future publication.
  • Information that is subject to a confidentiality agreement, such as in a signed consent form.
  • Sensitive data held under restricted access by a data archive.

Jisc has developed a detailed list of Freedom of Information questions and answers related to research data.

Freedom of information requests and research data deposited in an archive

If research data were given in confidence to an archive and the release of such data would breach this confidence, then a FOI request to disclose such research data can be refused.

Such research data could be data that under the licence agreement are only available to researchers, or may even have been placed under more restrictive access conditions due to the data being confidential.

In addition, if a ‘record’ (e.g. research data) contains personal data (under the definition of the DPA or the GDPR) that would allow a person to be identified from the data, then such data cannot be released under the FOI Act.

In general, a FOI request entitles access to the content of information held, not necessarily to an exact original document (e.g. an interview transcript or dataset).