In its monthly newsletter, sent out yesterday (28 July), the Information Commissioners Office sought to clarify an interesting question: whether or not people can use Twitter to submit freedom of information requests. And the answer is yes.
While Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests, this does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid. They can be valid requests in freedom of information terms and authorities that have Twitter accounts should plan for the possibility of receiving them.
… The ICO has also been asked whether a request in a tweet that only refers to an authority in an @mention, for example @ICOnews, is really directed to and received by that authority. The ICO’s view is that it is. Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.
According to the ICO the key requirement is the request must state the name of the applicant, which may not be shown in the Twitter name but instead in a linked profile.
But the ICO does warn that if the requester does not give their real name, it is technically not a valid freedom of information request.
Whilst the authority may still choose to respond, the requester should be made aware that the Information Commissioner will not be able to deal with any subsequent complaint.
As for an address, as this is difficult given the limited length of a tweet, authorities are reminded they can ask the requester for an email address in order to provide a full response, or publish the requested information, or a refusal notice, on its website and tweet a link to that.
The ICO does add, however, that requesters are encouraged to use this channel responsibly. “If they do not, the authority could consider using the exemptions for vexatious and repeated requests in section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act”, the newsletter entry states.