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2. Searching for Documents
Upon receipt of a valid request the FOI officer initiates a document search within the agency by requesting:
- a thorough, diligent and methodical search for documents be conducted; and,
- a response (including all relevant documents) be provided to the FOI Officer within a specified time frame.
It is standard practice to ask the relevant business area of the agency to conduct the search for documents rather than the FOI decision maker conducting the search themselves. This practice is based on the assumption that staff from the relevant business area are better placed to locate and identify all documents relevant to the request than someone from a different area of the agency. It is, however, the responsibility of the FOI decision maker to ensure that a thorough and diligent search for documents has been completed.
While it may be of assistance to the FOI officer to receive information from the business area regarding the documents provided (including information regarding any concerns as to release of the documents) it is the FOI officer who must make decisions regarding the release or otherwise of documents and therefore all relevant documents must be provided to the FOI decision maker by the business area.
Section 5 of the Act defines a document. The definition is wide and includes maps, plans, graphs, film and any words, figures or symbols having a meaning to someone.
Documents include emails and need not necessarily be contained on official files. They may be in the possession of individual employees. Generally, if a document in any way relates to the functions of the agency, it is subject to FOI.