Are Freedom of Information Requests increasing?

We have recently been reviewing trends in information and records management risk, and have put together some statistics on FOI and Privacy requests, and their costs.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics gives us some good high level pictures of trends in FOI over time. Looking at their dataset, we can see that FOI requests are trending down overall since 2001. However, there has been a significant uptick in the overall downward trend in the last ten years. We are processing 50% more requests now than we were in 2008, back to almost our historically highest 2003-2004 level.

This means that costs are going up. Even though the average cost of processing a request has gone down slightly in 2018 compared to 2008 (factoring in inflation), the overall cost to government has gone up, by about $15M per annum, to $45m. This is well ahead of inflation.

We can also look broader than just FOI, to make sure we are taking in all Privacy discoveries as well, by considering all of the Freedom of Information and Privacy complaint, review or other decisions made since 2011 by the Australian Information, Freedom of Information or Privacy Commissioners, under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 or the Privacy Act 1988. That analysis shows a very steep upward trend since reporting began in 2011, from about 20 a year in 2011/12, to around 110 a year in 2016/17.

So, disclosure requests and reviews are increasing, and the cost of responding to disclosure requests is increasing commensurately. All this means that we need our records in a very good state. Not only do we need to be able to respond to FOI requests that do arise more quickly and much more efficiently, but we also need to be able to demonstrate that we have actually taken reasonable steps to find in-scope records, to minimise the number that are escalated to the Commissioners. And of course, we need to do good recordkeeping more broadly, so that we don’t make as many mistakes that trigger FOI discoveries or privacy complaints in the first place.