Right to Rectify
The freedom of information legislation provides for a right for individuals to have access to and rectify where necessary, personal information held about them by public bodies. The right is supplemental to the provisions in the Data Protection Act and GDPR to amend and correct personal information held by certain third parties.
An application may be made to correct the information held by a public body on the basis that it is incorrect, incomplete, or misleading. Where this is shown to the public body, the information must be amended. The amendment may involve alteration of the record to make it complete, correct and no longer misleading. Additional information may be added for this purpose. The information may alternatively require to be deleted.
All reasonable steps must be taken to notify third parties to whom access to the records has been given, as well as other public bodies to whom a copy of the record was furnished within the previous year. They must be furnished with the relevant amendment.
If the application for amendment is not accepted, a copy of the application for amendment is to be attached unless defamatory or too voluminous. It cannot be practicable to attach, a notation must be attached.
Process for Application
An application to amend records must be made in writing or another format as is prescribed, specify the relevant records and the amendment requested. It must be made by the person to whom the information relates. The applicant must specify and identify the information disputed. The amendment sought is to be specified, e.g., the deletion, amendment, alteration etc.
The decision must be made within four weeks on the application. There is a right of appeal/review to the Information Commissioner against the decision made by the relevant body.
The information must be personal information. This is defined as information about an identifiable individual that would in the ordinary course of events be known only to the individual or members of the family, of friends of the individual or is held by a public body on the understanding that it is to be treated as confidential.
The application may be made notwithstanding that the information is not to hand or that an application has been made by the applicant which has been refused. The information may already be held or be obtained from another source by the applicant.
Criteria for Amendment
Information may be accepted as being incomplete, where it omits material matters. It may be incorrect if it does not conform to accepted standards or is factually inaccurate or erroneous. It may be misleading if it tends to give the wrong impression or misleads persons examining the record.
It is the function of the head of the authority to make the amendment. Issues of facts are more easily resolved than statements of opinions. The positions is most controversial in the context of personnel records. Matters of opinions will often depend on matters of fact which themselves may be incorrect or disputed.
Differences of opinion will not readily lead to amendments. It will be necessary to show that the relevant facts on which it is based, are wholly incorrect, discredited, imbalanced or lacking in foundation.
The addition may be by way of an amendment specifying in what respects the holder disagrees with the opinion. There must not just simply set out that the content is disputed. There must be something to say in what respect it is claimed to be misleading, inaccurate or incomplete.
An inaccurate record may be deleted. A body may retain the original record and or record its deletion.
The public body itself may decide the appropriate remedy or form of an amendment. It is argued that the better interpretation is that the amendment should be accepted in full or rejected in full.
Where the application is rejected, the body is to attach a record of the application for amendment or to make a notation as set out above. Notation is not required if the application is defamatory or the alteration or addition would be voluminous or unnecessary.
The refusal to amend may be the subject of an internal appeal. There is a provision for an appeal to the Information Commissioner by the applicant. An appeal on a point of law to the High Court is further possible.
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