Requests for material under the Official Information Act can be made using social media, a new advisory from the Office of the Ombudsman confirms.
The introductory notes point out that the Ombudsman’s office has to date only received one complaint over such requests to date, “In essence, while it is possible to make official information requests by twitter and facebook [neither are capped, for some reason], it may not be the most reliable way of doing so.”
A colloquial translation might be: yeah, you can tweet an OIA, but an email’s better.
In the single complaint to date, a request via Twitter (for details on a council’s Facebook spend) had been dismissed with the stated reason “we cannot take LGOIMA [Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act] requests over twitter”. The Ombudsman’s office resolved it informally, by advising the council that they could and, indeed, should take such requests over Twitter.
If you can cope with the weird hulking capitalisation, you can read it in PDF form here.
The document concludes with the following “advice for requesters”:
It should be clear from the earlier discussion that twitter and facebook may not be the most reliable ways to make a request for official information:
• OIA (not LGOIMA) requesters may find that they have to provide additional information about themselves to satisfy the eligibility requirements, and the working day count for responding to their request won’t start until they’ve done so.
• There may be some doubt, particularly in the case of Ministers, as to when a request was received via twitter or facebook, and therefore when the working day count will start.
• It may not be possible to provide a full response to a request via twitter or facebook, meaning alternative contact details need to be supplied before a request can be complied with.
In addition, there is a risk – at least in this early and untested phase – that requests made via twitter and facebook will be overlooked. This is a particular risk with popular twitter accounts / facebook pages, attracting numerous tweets / posts. The systems for tracking and monitoring twitter and facebook communications may not be as developed or as sophisticated as the ones which currently exist in relation to postal and email communications.
Therefore, requesters who are considering making an official information request via twitter or facebook might want to consider doing the following:
• Invoke the OIA / LGOIMA explicitly. While there is no requirement to do so under the legislation, it may help to minimise the risk that your request is overlooked.
• If your request is made under the OIA, indicate the basis for your eligibility to make the request (if that is not already clear). Ask to be advised as soon as possible if further supporting information is required.
• Ask to receive an acknowledgment that your request has been received, and follow-up (perhaps with an alternative method of communication) if no acknowledgement is received.
• Make it clear how you wish to receive the agency’s decision on your request and the information you have requested. Offer to provide a postal or email address via personal message if required.
h/t No Right Turn