DEFE 24/1940 (UFO file)

FOI request reference: CAS-68515-Y7K9B2
Publication date: June 2021

Request

I would be extremely grateful to know the following, please:

1) Was the file in question originally due for release on 1/1/2021 in an unredacted form, i.e. before the MOD’s intervention?

2) Are there any publicly available records showing:
(a) when the MOD first contacted the NA about extending the closure period for this file,
(b) the reasons the MOD gave for justifying the significant extension of the closure period,
(c) what closure period the MOD’s staff requested
(d) on what date the NA reached its decision to agree to a closure extension,
(e) whether any other individual or organisation was consulted by the NA following the MOD’s closure extension request for this file, and
(f) what process the NA went through in responding/agreeing to the MOD’s request?

3) Given that the general public, presumably, had no input into the MOD/NA discussion regarding the decision to lengthen the closure period on this file from 2021 to 2076, is it possible to challenge that decision via an FOI request, or must this be done via an appeal to the ICO?

Outcome

Successful.

Response

1.Was the file in question originally due for release on 1/1/2021 in an unredacted form, i.e. before the MOD’s intervention?

DEFE 24/1940 did not previously have a record opening date of 1 Jan 2021. It was closed for 30 years, with a record opening date of 1 Jan 2022.

Closure periods provide a date at which either release would be appropriate or the case for release should be reconsidered, rather than indicating that a file will be opened on a specific date. This is in line with section 46 code of practice of the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

Code of Practice on the Management of Records issued under section 46 the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

2. Are there any publicly available records showing:
(a) when the MOD first contacted the NA about extending the closure period for this file

There are no publicly available records concerning the closure period of this record. The application to extend the closure was received on 16 January 2020.

(b) the reasons the MOD gave for justifying the significant extension of the closure period

The currently redacted information is exempt under s40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which exempts from release the personal information of a ‘third party’ (someone other than the requester), if revealing it would breach the terms of Data Protection Legislation. Data Protection Legislation prevents personal information from release if it would be unfair or at odds with the reason why it was collected, or where the subject had officially served notice that releasing it would cause them damage or distress. Personal information must be processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner as set out by Art. 5 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

It is standard government practice to assume that an individual is still living if they would not yet have reached the age of 100. If the age of an adult data subject is not known, it is assumed that they were 16 at the time of the records creation. Please see the explanatory annex below for further information on this exemption.

(c) what closure period the MOD’s staff requested
84 years

(d) on what date the NA reached its decision to agree to a closure extension
(e) whether any other individual or organisation was consulted by the NA following the MOD’s closure extension request for this file, and
(f) what process the NA went through in responding/agreeing to the MOD’s request?

The National Archives does not make decisions on closure periods, is not consulted in order to make that decision, and does not go through an agreement process with the transferring department.

The National Archives instead reviews departments’ applications for closure prior to these applications being presented to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives (ACNRA). This particular application was considered ahead of the ACNRA’s meeting on 11 May 2020, and seen and agreed on that date.

This process is detailed in the section 46 code of practice of the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/code-of-practice-on-the-management-of-records-issued-under-section-46-the-freedom-of-information-act-2000

The Advisory Council on National Records and Archives has a role in considering the wider public interest in closure, and advising the Secretary of State on the closure of public records, both individual applications and wider policy. Further details on the role and functions of the Advisory Council can be found here –

https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/our-role/advisory-council/role-of-the-advisory-council/.

The closure period, FOI exemption used and reasoning applied in respect of this file is in line with the closure of other documents containing correspondence and reports of UFO sightings.

3. Given that the general public, presumably, had no input into the MOD/NA discussion regarding the decision to lengthen the closure period on this file from 2021 to 2076, is it possible to challenge that decision via an FOI request, or must this be done via an appeal to the ICO?

Anyone can submit an FOI request for review of a closed document via the ‘Submit FOI request’ button on Discovery. During the FOI request process an assessment of the closed material is made and consultation undertaken with the originating department as to whether information can be disclosed or if it is exempt from release.

Explanatory Annex:

Section 40(2): Personal Information where the applicant is not the data subject

The Data Protection Legislation prevents personal information from release if it would be unfair or at odds with the reason why it was collected, or where the subject had officially served notice that releasing it would cause them damage or distress.

In this case the exemption applies because the material contains the personal information of identifiable individuals who are assumed still living.

It is standard government practice to assume that an individual is still living if they would not yet have reached the age of 100. If the age of an adult data subject is not known, it is assumed that they were 16 at the time of the records creation.

Further guidance can be found at:

Section 40 – Personal Information | ICO.