NOTE BY JULIAN LEWIS: It is sometimes thought that public bodies are forbidden by law from disclosing the names of requestors obsessively targeting people by using the Freedom of Information Act to wage campaigns aiming to embarrass them or to damage their reputation or standing. As a victim of such abuse by a political rival, who fed a malicious and false story to the News of the World, I sought a ruling on this from the Information Commissioner's Office.

The sentences which I have highlighted in bold italics in the letter below make it quite clear that, if you are harassed or targeted in this way, there is no legal reason why the identity of the hostile requester may not be disclosed to you.

24 September 2009

Dear Dr Lewis,

In response to your letter of 1 September 2009, I am pleased to confirm that there is no statutory bar to the disclosure of the names of FOI requestors by public authorities.

Information held by public authorities about requestors will be subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. If a public authority decides to release information about a requestor it will need to comply with the provisions of the Act. Inparticular, it will need to either have the FOI requestor's consent or balance the requestor's reasonable expectations of privacy with the enquirer's legitimate interests in disclosure.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how this balance should be struck, but we would expect a public authority to put greater weight on the privacy interests of an FOI requestor who is acting in a private capacity than one who is acting in the course of his or her business. A public authority's consideration of FOI requests must be 'applicant blind', and so the identity of the requestor should have no bearing on how the public authority handles the request.

For this reason, the circumstances in which an enquirer has a legitimate interest in knowing the identity of an FOI requestor, to the extent that this interest outweighs the privacy interests of the requestor, are likely to be limited. However, there may be some cases where the balance could be in favour of disclosure, for example, where a requestor is obtaining information that relates to an enquirer and using it in a way that impacts adversely on the enquirer's reputation or standing.

I hope this explanation is of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely,

David Smith
Deputy Commissioner