Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act (2000) applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland, the equivalent legislation is the The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. These laws give people a general right of access to information held by or on behalf of public authorities. The term ‘public authority’ is widely defined, but includes universities and colleges (higher and further education institutions) as well as other public bodies such as schools, central and local government organisations, and NHS organisations.
There are a number of exemptions to this right of access to information, and the Government Social Research Unit (GSRU) guidance advises that most exemptions are not absolute, but depend on whether the public interest in providing the information outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption. GSRU suggests that the exemptions in section 40 (which relates to personal information) and section 41 (which relate to information provided in confidence) of the Act may be most relevant to social research.
As with all the legislation described in this section, seek specific legal advice (through your organisation’s research office) where necessary.