UK ICO Says Spreadsheets May Contain Private Info

1 July 2013

Spreadsheets sent in response to freedom of information requests sometimes inadvertently contain too much personal information, a problem being addressed by the United Kingdom’s information commissioner’s office and a non-governmental organization that facilitates requests for information.

The problem occurs when public authorities fair to properly remove the underlying data before disclosing information in Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheet programs. “This information is hidden from view, but is easily accessible,” wrote Steve Wood, the Head of Policy Delivery at the ICO, in a June 28 blog post.

In one example, Wood showed that “by simply double-clicking on the provided table, the requestor can view the original source data, including the personal details of who made the expenses claims.”

The issue was raised recently by mySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow, which is used to make around 15 to 20% of the FOI requests sent to central government departments.

The ICO has issued two updates to its guide to freedom of information to highlight the importance of checking before disclosure.


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