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Mr Y and The Property Registration Authority (FOI Act 2014)

Case Number: 160384

Whether the PRA was justified in its decision to refuse access to computer records regarding the applicant's folio map, showing all requests, history, and alterations made, including dates, on the basis that no further records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

The applicant requested access to a copy of all computer records held by the PRA regarding his folio map, showing all requests, history, and/or alterations completed, including dates. In its original decision, the PRA refused access to folio records under section 15(2) of the FOI Act on the basis that folios are available to members of the public from the PRA on the payment of relevant fees. Access to records held on "instruments" was refused by the PRA under section 41 of the FOI Act having regard to Rule 159 of the Land Registration Rules 2012.

In a request for an internal review, the applicant explained that he was still seeking information on folio alterations i.e. mapping changes. He stated that he knew that his map was changed at least once in July 2013. Following an internal review, the PRA varied its original decision. It upheld its decision to refuse access to instruments, albeit in accordance with section 15(2). The PRA informed the applicant that an internal system had been set up to manage Ordinance Survey data delivered as part of a revision schedule received from Ordinance Survey Ireland (OSi). However, the PRA stated that there was no electronic record or paper record of this update stored per se in instrument format. Therefore under section 15(1)(a) the PRA refused access to an instrument relating to any change made to his map as part of this update process.

However, the PRA found that the applicant had a right to access information in relation to the OSi update because it was not held in instrument form. The PRA stated that while it did not hold an actual record of the chain of events that occurred under the OSi update system, it deemed that all information relating to it that pertained to the applicant's folio and map should be made available to him under the FOI Act. The PRA informed the applicant that it had therefore made arrangements for its Senior Mapping Manager to provide him with historical details of any records or alterations made to his folio or the map on his folio which were carried out under the OSi update. The PRA provided the applicant with an explanatory report at a subsequent meeting, a copy of which was supplied to this Office during this review.

The applicant applied to this Office for a review of the PRA's decision on the basis that he believes records exist relating to amendments to his folio map as a result of the OSi update in question. As a result of investigation by this Office, the PRA located an additional relevant record: the relevant OSi update file. This file has since been administratively released to the applicant. During the course of this review, this Office provided the applicant with the details of the searches conducted by the PRA pursuant to his FOI request. The applicant has expressed his desire for a formal decision on the matter. Accordingly, I have decided to complete this review by way of a formal, binding decision. In conducting this review, I have had regard to the relevant records and to communications between the applicant and the PRA on the matter and between this Office and both parties in relation to this review.

 

Preliminary Matters

My jurisdiction under section 22 of the FOI Act is to make a new decision in light of the facts and circumstances as they apply on the date of the review. The FOI Act does not provide a right of access to information, rather a right of access to records. Therefore the applicant's request for information has been treated as a request for records containing that information. Furthermore, this Office does not investigate complaints against FOI bodies, nor does it assess how FOI bodies conduct their functions generally.

 

Scope of Review

This review is concerned solely with the question of whether the PRA was justified in its decision to refuse access to records relating to amendments made to the applicant's folio and folio map pursuant to the OSi update in question.

 

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a) provides that access to records may be refused if the records concerned do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The role of the Commissioner in a "search case" is to decide whether the decision maker has had regard to all of the relevant evidence and, if so, whether the decision maker was justified in coming to the decision that the records do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The evidence in search cases consists of the steps actually taken to search for records, along with miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the FOI body, on the basis of which the decision maker concluded that the steps taken to search for records were reasonable. This Office does not normally search for records.

I do not propose to repeat the full details of the PRA's submissions in this review because they have already been provided to the applicant. The PRA stated that because the applicant's request concerned computer records, it initially conducted a search on its case tracking system. The PRA stated that at first it was understood that the OSi update was an automated "system to system" process and that no files relating to the process were held by the PRA. Therefore, according to the PRA, no further searches were conducted regarding this update at the internal review stage.

According to the PRA, records relating to any alterations or amendments to a folio are held on files known as "instruments" and the instruments concerning the applicant's property were identified in its searches. The PRA stated that access to the folio and instruments were refused because they could be accessed by means other than the FOI Act. The PRA stated that it considered all applications identified in its searches that concerned changes made to the applicant's folio.

On foot of enquiries by this Office, the PRA consulted its Head of Mapping in relation to the OSi update at issue. As noted, the PRA stated that it was initially understood that this process was "system to system" and that no files existed thereof and that this was communicated to the applicant. However, it became evident following consultation with the Head of Mapping that a file is held on the PRA systems relating to each OSi update.

The PRA explained that an OSi update is an electronic process that uses spatial data provided by OSi to update the PRA's digital map. According to the PRA, this process is completed under its in-house "OSi Update Module" using ".NTF" files supplied by OSi. The relevant file in this instance was identified by searching the OSi Update Module. The PRA explained that this is an in-house "virtual" electronic system designed to handle the OSi update process (automated processing of electronic spatial data). According to the PRA, the relevant file is extracted from the "file share" that holds OSi update files. The relevant file in this instance was administratively released to the applicant during the course of this review. The PRA clarified that this process is not in fact system to system; an electronic file is sent to the PRA from OSi and uploaded onto its system for processing under the PRA's OSi Update Module.

In correspondence with this Office, the PRA stated that this case was the first time that records relating to an OSi update had been sought under FOI. The PRA stated that it accepts that its handling of the applicant's request fell short of the standards required. It committed to reviewing its decision-making process as a result of issues raised during this review. In particular, it will have regard to changes made to title plans under OSi updates. I note that the PRA has also communicated this message to the applicant and has apologised to him for any confusion or inconvenience caused by its handling of his FOI request. I welcome the commitment by the PRA to review its processes.

Having regard to the explanation provided by the PRA of its OSi updates system and to the details of the searches undertaken to locate relevant records, I am satisfied that the PRA has now taken all reasonable steps to ascertain the whereabouts of relevant records and I find accordingly.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the PRA to refuse access to further records on the ground that they do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.

 

Right of Appeal

Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

 


Stephen Rafferty
Senior Investigator