Information

Saltire comments regarding pronouns intranet poll: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002


Information requested

I understand there was a poll run recently on the Scottish Government's Saltire intranet service about the use of pronouns on email signatures. The poll I am referring to is mentioned in this FOI response: https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-202100210730/.

Under FoI, could you please provide copies of all comments which were left by staff on Saltire in response to the poll. Please reproduce the comments in full, including those that were deleted by administrators.

Please do not include the names of any non-senior civil servants who left the comments - I understand these would be exempt from disclosure.

Can you please also make clear which of these comments were deleted/removed by administrators, and which were left up.

Response

I attach a copy of most of the information you requested.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested, namely comments that were deleted by Saltire users before your request for information was received.

Saltire users can choose to delete their own comments at any time. There is no facility available to retrieve self-deleted comments, therefore we do not hold this information. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information that you have requested.

In relation to comments deleted by administrators or moderators, it may be helpful if I explain that Saltire users must ensure that their comments are appropriate, accurate, relevant and lawful, and in line with the Civil Service Code and IT Code of Conduct. If another Saltire user believes a published comment is in breach of the Scottish Government’s moderation policy, for example if it is deemed likely to upset or distress other members of staff, they can report it and their complaint will be reviewed, and a decision taken about whether or not the comment needs to be removed.

Annex A contains comments posted on the intranet in response to the publication of the pronouns poll results. We have withheld comments deleted in line with our moderation policy under section 39(1) of FOISA, on the basis that disclosure would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical or mental health or safety of an individual, even if not intended. Having determined at the time of the poll that these could have caused distress to a number of staff, we consider that making these public through an information release would be likely to have a detrimental impact on the mental wellbeing of those staff.

These exemptions are subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in ensuring that the mental wellbeing of staff is not harmed by putting into the public domain information which has previously been removed by moderators and which is not freely available within the Scottish Government as a consequence. We consider that there is no public interest in disclosing information when that will lead to harm to the mental wellbeing of staff – not the staff who left the comments, but those affected by them.

You indicated that you did not wish to receive the names of any non-senior civil servants who left the comments, as you understood that these would be exempt from disclosure. I have interpreted this as excluding the names of staff in Bands A to C from the scope of your request.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide a small amount of the information you have requested because an exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA applies. The reasons why that exemption applies are set out below.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested because it is the personal data of a family member of a civil servant, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested because it is the personal data of a Senior Civil Servant (their name). While our general approach is to disclose the names of Senior Civil Servants, after careful consideration we have concluded that on this occasion we cannot establish a lawful basis for processing their name by disclosing it in response to this request. While we accept that you have a legitimate interest in understanding how people in leadership positions within the Scottish Government contributed to the comments, we have concluded that it is not necessary to disclose the names in order to satisfy your legitimate interest because the legitimate interest can be met by indicating which comments were made by Senior Civil Servants, and we have done so in Annex A. In the absence of a lawful basis for processing, disclosing the information would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

While it does not fall within scope of your request, I have (outwith FOISA) provided a copy of the moderation policy at Annex B, in order to assist you in understanding why certain comments were removed.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

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