FOI office rejects ‘vexatious’ applicant’s repeated requests

An open records applicant who repeatedly sent requests to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service between December 2009 and September 2010 “abused” the system, according to Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert.

The commissioner’s office said that one person was responsible for a large number of requests over the past year not being answered and being declared “vexatious” by the government.

“This was a very unique situation in that it is the first instance in Cayman where it seems that an applicant may have been abusing the FOI system,” Mrs. Dilbert said Tuesday.

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the applicant filed two requests consisting of 15 questions in December ’09, four requests consisting of 24 questions in January last year, and seven requests in February, 12 in August and 20 in September 2010.

The police service acknowledged all of the requests, according to Mrs. Dilbert, but eventually classified them all as “vexatious” because of the frequency and broad range of information requested. The applicant then appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office but later abandoned the entire matter.

“Numerous attempts by the ICO to contact the applicant and progress the appeal have not been answered, which unfortunately goes to strengthening the RCIPS position that the reasoning behind the requests was to waste time and disturb the work of the police,” a statement from Mrs. Dilbert’s office read.

For the entire period, December 2009 through September 2010, the police service received 46 separate requests from the same applicant asking 78 questions. The service decided – after getting 35 questions from the same person in 10 days – to declare all the open records requests vexatious.

“The term vexatious is not specifically defined in the legislation,” Mrs. Dilbert said. “[However], we can draw on experiences of other jurisdictions to help determine what is unacceptable.”

According to a recent summary from the Information Commissioner’s Office, the vast majority of those refusals occurred either because the request was determined to be vexatious, or because it sought an “unreasonable disclosure” of personal information. The Information Commissioner’s Office later revealed that many of the 41 requests determined to be “vexatious” had been filed with the RCIPS by one person.

According to the FOI Law, unreasonable disclosures of personal information on any person – living or dead – is one reason to deny an open records request. However, that must be balanced against a public interest test also prescribed in the law.

Other reasons for non-disclosure included exemption from release because the item contained information concerning the commercial interest of a person or organisation, or that the record contained information of commercial value. Legal privilege exemptions and potential prejudicial effects on court matters were also cited in several cases as reasons for non-disclosure.