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The Freedom of Information Act came into force on January 1st 2005.

It gives you the right to ask any public body for all the information they have on any subject you choose. And unless there’s a good reason, they have to give it you within a month. You can also ask for all the personal information they hold on you. Market research information, for example, is gathered by market researchers from a range of sources. Where this information is collected about individual consumers then this information needs to be made available so that individuals that supply this information can check that records kept about them and their opinions are accurate.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will have a profound effect on the public and private sectors alike, and provides citizens, companies, journalists and campaigners with a powerful new tool.

Since 1st January 2005 everyone has a legal right of access to information held by over 100,000 public bodies. The Act is retrospective, so applies to historical documentation as well as that generated since it was enacted.

The Public Sector

The Freedom of Information Act covers almost all public authorities, which are estimated to number around 100,000 (there are a few exceptions). The Act is retrospective, so applies to historical documentation as well as that generated post-act.

The Private Sector

If you own a UK company the Freedom of Information Act will affect you to some degree. Every company is regulated, taxed or licensed by public authorities and many have public sector contracts.

Under the FOIA, unless the information they hold on you is legally exempt, it could be open to the public and your competitors.

And some companies carrying out public functions will eventually be covered by the Act, so will have to open their files to anyone who asks.

Exemptions

Although the Freedom of Information Act allows you right of access to most information held by public authorities, some information remains protected.There are two types of exemption, absolute and qualified. Some of these, almost all qualified ones (see the FOIA website – opens a new window), require a judgment to be made on whether release of the information will prejudice the interests specified in the particular exemption. This is known as the ‘prejudice test’ and sometimes as the ‘harm test.’

Glossary: Affiliate Network, Business to Business, Business to Consumer, Business to Government, Customer Database, Customer Relationship Marketing, Data Protection Act, Database, Database Marketing, Direct Marketing, E-mail Harvesting, E-mail Marketing, e-Marketing, E-Privacy Directive, Fax Preference Service, Loyalty Marketing, Loyalty Programme, Market Research, Opt-in, Opt-in Email, Permission Marketing, Personal Page, Personalisation, Relationship Marketing, Telephone Preference Service, Tracking, Tracking Study, Unique Visitor, Visitor

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