Most who seek copies of public records in the Cayman Islands as the new Freedom of Information Law takes effect today will have to pay something for those records.
According to FOI Law regulations released on 23 December, copies of government records will cost between CI$1 and $1.50 per page; copies of photographs will range from CI $5-$10; blueprints will cost $3 per page; and maps will run $5 a page. Other charges vary depending on the medium used to store the record and the costs of recovering it.
Individuals will not be charged if they inspect records at the offices of public authorities, nor will they be charged for copying records if the chief officer of the government agency handling the open records request determines they are simply not able to pay.
Those who wish to access certain records faster may pay an added fee of $50 to receive ‘expedited service’ on their request. However, that service can only be provided in certain cases such as the record being required in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, or a case where the life or liberty of the applicant is endangered.
Generally, public authorities have 30 days to respond to FOI requests made by applicants. However, the process can take longer if access to the records is denied by the information manager, or if the applicant has made their request to the wrong agency.
The FOI regulations also provide the key definition of public interest, which the information managers, chief officers, government ministers and Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert will use to rule on cases where there is a dispute over whether a record should be released.
According to the FOI Law, in cases where the reasons for releasing a record and withholding a record are equal, the public interest must take precedent and the item or items should be released.
Public interest is defined as things that may or tend to: promote greater public understanding or processes and decisions of public authorities; provide reasons for government decisions; promote government accountability and greater accountability of the use of public funds; improve the quality of government services; reveal or deter wrongdoing or untrue or misleading information; and to reveal information related to public health and safety.
The FOI Law will not require government agencies to compile or create records, according to Freedom of Information Unit Manager Carole Excell. Requesters are only allowed to access records which already exist.
Also, there are a slew of exemptions for which information would not be released including items which deal with national security, proprietary information of commercial interests and internal deliberations of Cabinet. Those exemptions were set out in the law which was passed by Legislative Assembly in 2007.
The legislation’s passage marked the ratification of first Freedom of Information Law in the islands’ history.
Certain government records requested under the FOI law may contain personal information of third parties who may or may not have anything to do with the initial request. In those cases, according to the regulations, those parties must be notified that the request could include their personal information.
The third party or parties would be given 28 calendar days from the date the notice was sent to them to either consent to the release of the records or challenge the release. If a decision is made to release the records in whole or in part, the third party may appeal to the Information Commissioner to reconsider the move.
Personal information includes the person’s name, home address, telephone number, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, identifying numbers, fingerprints, biometric information, health records and the like. Also, views expressed about the individual, the person’s views or opinions, and information about any public contracts held by the individual.
In cases where a person is notified that records containing their personal information have been requested, the name of the person requesting the records will not be revealed. In fact, it is not necessary for the requester to even provide a real name for these types of requests.
Under no circumstances is any government agency allowed to ask those making open records requests the reasons they are making those requests. The open records law applies to all government entities, including statutory authorities and government companies. Certain exemptions are given to the Cayman Islands’ court system which already has its own process for obtaining records.