Hampshire Fire and Rescue: reason for marking as “Private and Confidential”

Hampshire Fire and Rescue have provided a comment regarding the curious paragraph that appears in their Freedom of Information Act responses.  They claim that it is to assist the service in remaining applicant blind by ensuring that the correspondence is only dealt with by their FOI Officer.  They appear to, but have not expressly, refute the suggestion that the request is so that they can try and exclude correspondence recieved in relation to FOI requests from future FOI requests.

It is rather odd that Hampshire Fire and Rescue feel that by including such a paragraph and getting applicants to mark their correspondence as “Private and Confidential” that this will ensure that the authority is applicant blind.  Applicants are, of course, obliged by section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to provide thier real name in correspondence so having knowledge of the name of the applicant is something that doesn’t appear to affect the “applicant blind” part of the process.  Indeed knowing the name is essential if an authority is going to be able to enforce the “vexatious and repeated requests” or the “aggegated costs” provisions.  It also appears to be approached from a Data Protection point of view, which appears just as odd as the applicant blind approach.

The response provided by Hampshire Fire and Rescue can be read below:

Thank you for your email. The statement you refer to is added to all of our Freedom of Information correspondence to ensure that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Information Compliance Officer and her colleagues are the recipient of all requests and subsequent correspondence that may be associated with a request under the Freedom of Information Act. All FoI requests are applicant blind to the person(s) providing the information, and this is the reason why this statement is added, as it will ensure that the requesters details remain confidential. For responses made publically available through the website “Whatdotheyknow.com” we provide the same level of confidentiality when handling a request. For those requests from private individuals then their personal information will also remain confidential, and this is to comply with data protection. HFRS publish all FoI requests on our website, but remove all personal information, regardless of the source of the request.