Important Guidance For Public Authorities.

Important Guidance For Public Authorities

Important Guidance For Public Authorities. A series of high-profile data breaches in the UK have once again highlighted the importance of safeguarding personal information. Data from original source spreadsheets was inadvertently exposed. This was in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Therefore while this issue isn’t new, it serves as a reminder of the immense consequences that can result from human errors.

Information Commissioner calls on public authorities to stop using spreadsheets in FOI responses
John Edwards – Information Commissioner

Safeguarding Personal Information in the Digital Age:

Firstly public authorities (PAs) play a pivotal role in managing and protecting personal information. To mitigate the risk of such data breaches and enhance security measures, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued several urgent recommendations.

Important Guidance For Public Authorities:

Implement a Moratorium

PAs are advised to impose a temporary halt on disclosing original source spreadsheets to online platforms when responding to FOI requests. This step ensures a thorough review of the information being shared.

Convert to CSV Files

Convert spreadsheets and sensitive metadata into open, reusable formats like Comma-Separated Value (CSV) files. This not only simplifies data sharing but also reduces the chances of unintended exposure.

Data Management Systems

In addition invest in robust data management systems that support data integrity. This will help streamline information handling and reduce human error.

Continuous Staff Training

Keeping employees updated on best practices is crucial in preventing data breaches.

Adopt ICO Guidance

Familiarise yourself with and incorporate ICO guidance into policies and procedures.

Maintain Statutory Responsibilities

Furthermore continue to comply with statutory responsibilities under FOIA. The ICO recommendations are not a reason to avoid publishing information but rather a means to ensure secure publication.

Maintain Data Integrity

Ensure that when responding there is no unexpected data included when disclosing information.

Important Guidance For Public Authorities:


Furthermore, it’s essential to consider alternative approaches when responding to FOI requests for original source spreadsheets via online platforms. If providing the same information securely is not feasible, PAs should ask requestors if they can provide an alternative address for correspondence. However, even if requestors insist on using the original address, PAs must respond while taking steps to prevent data breaches. Lastly, PAs should record and retain personal information in the most appropriate and proportionate format, adhering to security and data minimisation principles within the UK GDPR.

The Information Commissioners Efforts:

As part of its ongoing efforts, the ICO has created a short checklist for public authorities to ensure the safe and appropriate disclosure of information. Additionally, the ICO will review and update its guidance on how to disclose information safely and engage with online platforms to facilitate FOI and transparency securely.

In this digital age, safeguarding personal information is paramount. By implementing these recommendations and staying informed about evolving best practices, public authorities can play a pivotal role in protecting individuals’ privacy and maintaining public trust.


ICO Guidance


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