Agencies need to improve informal release of information, Commissioner says
NSW public sector agencies need to do better when it comes to the informal release of government information, the state’s information commissioner says.
Informal release is one way government agencies can release information to the public under the state’s Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act.
Othe pathways include proactive release, which is done pre-emptively, and formal release, which is done in response to a formal request.
Informal release occurs when an agency gives out information in response to a request without requiring the person requesting it to lodge a formal access application.
It can involve the provision of documents and information by phone, email, or fax; in person, or via view-only access. Agencies also have the ability to selectively release information or redact anything that can be against the public interest.
Informal release is meant to provide an inexpensive and efficient way for citizens to get information from government agencies and to increase government transparency.
However, almost one in five of the informal requests recorded by agencies over the last year didn’t result in information being released, a new report shows.
Lack of established procedures
The report, conducted for the NSW Information and Privacy Commission by UNSW and released by Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd last week, contains findings about how the informal release pathway is being used. It also contains data from an IPC survey of public sector agencies.
The report shows that most agencies lack proper procedures to manage informal release requests, and 53 per cent don’t have a document policy or procedure for staff dealing with access requests.
Only 83 per cent of informal requests recorded by agencies resulted in information being released.
“This demonstrates that in general agencies are aware of and using the legislation to release information informally,” Commissioner Tydd said.
“However more can be done by agencies to ensure that this pathway operates as intended.”
Poor understanding of informal release
Commissioner Tydd says there was a dramatic 30 per cent increase in formal access applications of government information in 2020/21, but informal release remains the least understood of the access pathways.
To address the gaps her office is developing a suite of tools to support agencies in releasing information informally, including statutory guidelines, training and templates to help them communicate with citizens.
“The findings present an opportunity for the IPC to support and facilitate change across the public sector,” Commissioner Tydd said.
The tools being developed by the IPC will inform the practices of agencies and ensure they are well placed to meet both their legal requirements and adopt good administrative practices.”
The resources, planned for released in September, will include:
• Statutory Guidelines promoting disclosure of information through informal release
• An agency check list to guide informal release
• Templates to enable agencies to communicate with citizens regarding their informal access requests.
• A tool to help agencies to record informal access decisions and collect
• An updated Fact Sheet for citizens to assist them making informal requests for information.
• Training for agencies to be delivered in September 2023.
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