Jobbridge and Freedom of Information

Victory of a sort…but mostly not

In March 2012, I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Social Protection (DSP), looking for the Jobbridge database.

By July of the same year, DSP had replied with some of what I sought, but I had some problems, and so an appeals process began.

My first problem was the DSP refusal to provide details of companies which had asked for anonymity during the advertising process. Internally, these are referred to as “Closed Vacancy” companies. About one in five advertisements for Jobbridge internships are closed vacancy, that is, the applicant does not know what company is advertising the post.

The second problem was the refusal to hand over a field called “COMPANY_ID”. This field is the only way to link the company placing an advertisement with the job it is advertising. DSP said this was confidential information and releasing it would constitute a security breach which could unleash evil hackers in some unspecificed manner.

Finally, there’s a field in the Database which indicates whether or not a company requested anonymity. It’s basically a “Yes/No” button, called “ANONYMOUS”. We’ll come back to that later.

As it turns out, when DSP sent me a database in July 2012, they accidentally sent me the names of the Closed Vacancy companies. I didn’t know this at the time, and I appealed the Department’s refusal to provide me with the names of Closed Vacancy companies. The internal appeal was upheld in the Department’s favour, and so I then began an external appeal, to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC).

In December 2014, OIC got back to me to let me know they’d issue a decision shortly, and to bring me up to date on their thinking. It was at this point that I first learned that I already had the Closed Vacancy companies. OIC explained that, since DSP had given me the Closed Vacancy names, the question was moot, and it would not decide the issue of whether DSP was required to hand over Closed Vacancy names. In return, I pointed out the database they had sent me was almost three years old, and I intended once a decision was made to ask for a fresh database with up-to-date names, and if they didn’t make a decision, then I’d have to go through the entire appeals process again, which would take another three years.

They said they’d think about it.

Well, they’ve thought about it.[See end of post].

The OIC decided not to decide about Closed Vacancy names, as they first indicated. On the up side, the OIC did make some “General Observations” at the end of the decision. Reading them optimistically, they appear to say in effect that, if the issue arose again, OIC would be inclined to find in my favour.

However, observations are not binding, and DSP could easily delay for another few years until an appeals process plays itself out.

Happily, OIC did decide I had a right to COMPANY_ID numbers, so I will now receive a database with meaning, and not a list of internships orphaned from the companies advertising them.

I had emailed a request for a fresh database (including Closed Vacancy companies) to DSP today. They can decide to release those names, or I can enter the appeals process again. So ar, it’s been two years and eleven months…

I’ll keep you updated.

Update 1: For those of you wondering, the database I received in 2012 is at this link: Scribd doesn’t like very large excel files, and the Jobbridge data dump clocks in at around 6Mb, so the Jobbridge database is available through a Dropbox link
The “ANONYMOUS” field appears with a zero in every case, which I assume is some sort of processing error by DSP which led to the unwitting release of all.companies.

Update 2: There’s some fine tuning to take care of before the information is released, since the database is quite large (I have no interest in fax numbers, for instance) but the Department of Social Protection has indicated to me today (24 February 2015) that it will release the names of Closed Vacancy companies.

FOI jobbridge external appeal decision

Jobbridge: Does exactly what it says on the tin
Jobbridge: Does exactly what it says on the tin

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