This guideline explains how agencies1 can search for documents in response to valid access applications under the Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI Act) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act). It also outlines how to keep records of those searches, which will be important if the agency’s decision is reviewed.
When an agency receives a valid access application the decision maker must make inquiries with the relevant business units about the existence of documents within the scope of the application.2 There are various measures an agency can take to ensure that reasonable and thorough searches for documents are conducted and properly recorded.
Written records of all searches should be kept on file to show that all reasonable steps were taken to locate the documents. This guideline’s appendices contain templates to assist decision makers with search process record keeping:
Processing charges associated with applications made under the RTI Act can include the time taken to search and retrieve relevant documents.3
A decision notice should contain detailed information about the searches. Providing details of searches, for example the names of business units, databases or email accounts searched and if necessary a short explanation of their relevance to the scope of the access application, helps applicants to fully understand the extent of searches undertaken and, if relevant, the reasons why any documents cannot be located.4
Searches of a backup system are only mandatory in the circumstances set out in section 52(2) of the RTI Act5. In all other cases, they are not required unless the agency considers the search appropriate6.
Where an agency has a ‘bring your own device’ policy, allowing agency officers to use their own devices for agency business, it will be particularly important to ensure those devices are captured in any search requests.
Where agency policies specifically allow the use of private email accounts for agency business, for example where officers are travelling or working from home, decision makers may need to consider accounting for this in their search processes. For more information see Online and One Your Phone.
Documents stored off-site remain documents of an agency and must be retrieved if they are in scope of an application.
If an in-scope document has been stored at Queensland State Archives it must be retrieved and processed, unless it is no longer in the control of the agency, for example if it has passed into the open access period under the Public Records Act 2002 (Qld) (PR Act).
Searches for documents will not be required in some circumstances. For example, searches are not necessary:
The PR Actsets out legislative requirements for the creation, retention and disposal of public records.7 Where an agency cannot locate documents sought in an access application, the decision maker should determine whether the documents have been destroyed under an approved schedule. If the records have been destroyed under an approved schedule, this needs to be set out in the reasons for decision.
Section 47(3)(e) of the RTI Act provides that an agency can refuse access to a document that is nonexistent or unlocatable as mentioned in section 52. For more information see Documents nonexistent or unlocatable.
Current as at: November 5, 2018