From the 1st January 2005 you have:
- A right to know if the Department hold the information requested; and
- A right of access to that information, subject to certain exemptions.
The reason for the request, if provided, is not taken into account in deciding whether information is released or withheld. Similarly the Department cannot question why information is being requested by an individual.
The Department has adopted a positive approach to the release of information, based on the assumption that information will be made available unless it is specifically exempt under the legislation or where disclosure is not in the public interest.
The Act is fully retrospective. This means that you can ask for information held by the Department irrespective of its age. For example, a document or report created in 1999 can be requested under the access to information provisions of the FOIA even though those provisions did not come into force until 1st January 2005.
Access to personal information
The Freedom of Information Act does not extend to the provision of personal information held, by the Department, about yourself. Such requests will continue to be handled under the provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. You can get further information about the DPA from the Office of the Information Commissioner.