[Fsfe-ie] FOI request to NSAI: response received

Ben North ben at redfrontdoor.org
Wed Jun 25 23:38:38 CEST 2008

Today I received the NSAI's response to my request, and they have
refused to provide almost all of the records sought.  Their reason for
this refusal is 32(1)(a) of the FOI Act, which states that the head (of
the FOI dept of the FOI-covered body, as I understand this term to be
used) shall refuse to grant a request if the disclosure of the record
concerned is prohibited by any enactment.

Text of sec.32 of the act is available at


The letter from the NSAI goes on to cite sec.5 of schedule 2 of the NSAI
Act 1996


which states

   Disclosure of information.

   5. (1) Subject to subparagraph (3), a person shall not disclose any
   information obtained by that person—

   (a) while performing duties as a member of the Board or of any committee
   appointed under this Act or as a member of staff of, or adviser or
   consultant to, the Authority, or

   (b) as a member of or as a member of staff of any body consulted in
   pursuance of the provisions of this Act, while performing duties
   relating to any such consultation.

   (2) A person who contravenes subparagraph (1) shall be guilty of an offence.

   (3) Nothing in subparagraph (1) shall prevent—

   (a) disclosure of information in a report made by the Authority (or on
   its behalf) to the Minister, or

   (b) disclosure of information by the Authority or by a member of the
   Authority or by a member of any committee appointed under this Act for
   the purpose of a scheme of research and development or a scheme of
   acquisition of product and process technology.

Therefore it seems the NSAI's FOI officer has no discretion in the
matter and must refuse almost all of my request.

The records they did provide are documentation of their procedures.  The
documents are as follows.

Procedures Manual: Establishment, selection, operation, review and
disbandment of a Standards Consultative Committee
(rev.11, 200711)

I have only skimmed this, but one relevant section seems to be 4.2.3:

   4.2.3 Consensus

   Matters within the Committee shall as far as possible be decided by

      "Consensus" is defined as general agreement characterised by the absence
      of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of
      the concerned interests, and by a process that involves seeking to take
      into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any
      conflicting arguments.  Consensus need not imply unanimity.

   In the absence of consensus votes may be taken and the results reported
   to NSAI by the Secretary for consideration in making an NSAI decision on
   the matter.

Procedures Manual: Attendance at International and European
Standardization Meetings
(rev.11, 200605)

Again, I've only skimmed this.  Nothing too startling.  The last
sentence of sec.4.5 says

   Delegates or experts shall not use their membership of a CEN, ISO or
   ETSI committee or working group in furtherance of a company

Earlier in sec.4.5, it talks about delegations "represent Ireland/the
NSAI --- and so their personal business or trade affiliations must be a
secondary consideration."

Work Instruction: Default Voting System
(rev.1, 200708)

I don't fully understand what this document says.  There is a page with
a table titled "ISO VOTING".  This table seems to suggest that 'abstain'
is the 'Default default voting position' (repetition of 'default' in
original) for 'Committee Docs' but I'm afraid I can't interpret this one
very well.

Procedures Manual: Standards Appeal Procedure
(rev.1, 200605)

Outlines the procedure followed by the NSAI in the event of an appeal
with regard to one of their decisions.  The examples it gives as grounds
for appeal include:

   The decision of NSAI Standards was irrational, perverse or manifestly

The response from the NSAI also included a copy of a form letter which
was sent to people who enquired about the OOXML decision.  I can't find
this on the web, so here it is:

   Dear ,

   I write in response to your website enquiry regarding the recent
   approval of DIS 29500 Open Office XML by ISO.

   First of all it is necessary to explain that all the global ISO/IEC
   standards that NSAI deals with are voluntary consensus documents.  They
   are not regulations or state-imposed edicts.  NSAI co-ordinates national
   discussion and comment before a decision is made on the national vote on
   these specifications.

   In this case an Ad-Hoc Group, reporting to NSAI's ICT Standards
   Consultative Committee, was set up to examine the draft of DIS 29500
   over last summer.

   NSAI's ICT SCC is a representative group reflecting different and varied
   strands of opinion.

   In August NSAI voted No on DIS 29500, citing 12 technical comments as
   the reasons for this negative vote.  This, in effect, was a conditional
   Yes vote - conditional on these 12 comments being addressed.  The
   standard failed to achieve approval at this stage because of the number
   of National Standards Bodies holding similar reservations.

   A week-long Ballot Resolution Meeting was held in Geneva in February to
   address the technical comments raised by all National Standards Bodies,
   attended by an Irish delegation.

   NSAI's ICT SCC then met to discuss the resolution of Ireland's 12
   comments and it was a clear majority view that the comments had been
   addressed satisfactorily.  NSAI decided to vote positively in the final
   vote on this basis.

   At the world level (ISO/IEC) there was a strong majority of
   participating members in favour of the standard at the final vote (the
   minimum requirement is 67% of votes).  A huge amount of work had gone in
   to resolving thousands of national comments and this seems to have paid
   off in terms of the revised standard receiving more support than before.

   Once again the result (ISO/IEC 29500) is a voluntary consensus

   I hope that this is of interest,


   Enda McDonnell
   Director of Standards

They also refunded my two fees, which I don't think they were obliged to
do.  Mr Henry's letter was polite, and he apologised for the delay in

I think this is probably the end of this avenue, then.  Their procedures
say that they can fall back to a vote if consensus cannot be achieved,
and the letter says that such a vote was in favour of a 'yes' response
to ISO.  We could consider appealing, but I would be amazed if it went
anywhere.  Their (possibly mildly circular) logic would probably be
along the lines that their committee voted in favour, so therefore the
decision cannot be manifestly unreasonable.

There's no point appealing the decision to refuse the FOI request to the
Information Commissioner, because the wording of the FOI Act and NSAI
Act is clear.  There's no room for 'public interest' arguments, say.

Unless anybody has any other ideas, I think we'll have to consider this
matter closed, alas.

For futures standards work, though, we could possibly express our
concerns about the lack of transparency of the NSAI's operations to the
Minister for Enterprise and Employment.  Any thoughts on that?


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