Section 17 (4) (b) in particular contains the following restriction on how much freedom you can expect your information to have.
, the FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format
This then is the yardstick by which ‘reasonable’ action shall be based. You only have to do it if it was reasonable if everything was printed out and you had only paper to work with.
Query a database? Sure, it might only take a moment to use the search box. But if I had to print it all out and go through it by hand, that would be an unreasonable demand. So, no.
The Explanatory Memo which the Government published to go with the Bill is more explicit about the government’s intent.
Bodies are required to take reasonable steps to search for and extract such data (analogous to the steps that would be considered reasonable if such a record was held in paper form)
When he was launching the Bill Minister Brendan Howlin had this to say:
“the current legislation was essentially designed to deal primarily with paper records and the legislative framework for FOI needs to be updated to reflect the transformation that has taken place in ICT since that time
Now we know he meant that special laws to allow the state to pretend that the ICT transformation never happened should be brought in. Civil servants are to be empowered to pretend that computers haven’t been invented and all their records are paper ones.