Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Going down the FOI rabbit hole

I've submitted one FOI request in my life, and I really don't want to have to go through that again if I can help it. However, I am at the point where I might have to lodge a request with RailCorp in order to extract some information out of them.

The question is this - how do you actually submit an FOI request to RailCorp?

I started by searching the RailCorp website for a contact number and perhaps an actual FOI request form template. It returned no hits for the search term "FOI". I got one hit with "freedom of information" - but all I found was a Summary of Affairs. All this tells me is this:

Many RailCorp documents are available for inspection or purchase. Access to some documents may require an application under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. You can apply under the FOI Act for access to documents held by RailCorp that are not publicly available.

There is nothing in there about how to actually apply for documents, just a note that you can apply. It's like being a character in Catch-22.

I then fell back on Google, which threw up a hit under the CCTV section of the RailCorp website:

RailCorp collects, uses, stores and disseminates personal information, in a manner consistent with the Information Privacy Principles contained within the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998. Complaints concerning privacy are to be referred to the RailCorp FOI/Privacy Office on ph: (02) 8202 2323.

At least it provides a phone number for the FOI office, but no link to FOI request templates or other useful information. Not even an address where you can mail your request.

Google also threw up a hit on the 2004-2005 Annual Report for RIC, which says:

The FOI and Privacy Office is located in the Communications Group, Level 6, 18 Lee Street Chippendale NSW 2008, and may be contacted on (02) 8202 2323 or (02) 8202 3058 during business hours.

Knowing my luck, the FOI Office will have been re-organised into another department since 2005, and will also be located in another building. At least the phone number appears to still be the same.

Contrast this with the RTA. A search for FOI on the RTA website returns 50 hits, many of them useful, such as a list of forms in PDF format that you can actually use to request information.

It's no wonder that the RIC annual report listed only 2 FOI requests for 2004-2005. The people who managed to lodge those requests must have been world class private detectives.

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