ICO - FS50908339

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ICO - FS50908339
Authority: ICO (UK)
Jurisdiction: United Kingdom
Relevant Law: Article 5(1)(a) GDPR
Article 6(1)(f) GDPR
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Type: Complaint
Outcome: Rejected
Published: 11.06.2020
Fine: None
Parties: University of London (LSE)
National Case Number/Name: FS50908339
European Case Law Identifier: n/a
Appeal: Unknown
Original Language(s): English
Original Source: ICO (in EN)
Initial Contributor: Andrea S.

The ICO rejected the compliant of an individual, which has requested the University of London the names of the examiners who assessed a PhD thesis, and the date on which the thesis was assessed. In particular, the discolure of the data would have been unlawful, due to the fact that there was an insufficient legitimate interest to outweigh the data subjects’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

English Summary


A data subject asked the University of London to have access to the names of the examiners who assessed the PhD thesis of President Tsai Ing-wen, the President of the Republic of China, and the date on which the thesis was assessed.

From his point of view, this information would be useful to validate the legitimacy of President Tsai’s thesis. He was concerned that the thesis was not filed with the LSE’s library until 2019 and that the filed copy appeared to be a 'draft document' and casted doubt on the thesis’ validity. Therefore his request should be accepted for a broad public interest.

The University of London confirmed the validity of the President Tsai’s thesis and provided a link to the copy of the thesis in question, however it didn't grant the access to the personal data requested to the individual under section 40(2) of the FOIA.


The ICO had to determine whether the Council had correctly withheld information on the basis of section 40(2)of the FOIA.

First, the ICO had to assess if the requested information constituted personal data.

Secondly, the ICO needed to analyse if the information to disclose would contravene the Data Protection principles established by the Art. 5 of GDPR.

In particular, as far as the Art. 5 is concerned, the ICO needed to assess if the request was lawful on the basis of a 'legitimate interest' of the individual and, therefore, verify if the criteria of legitimate interest assessment were met.


The ICO confirmed that the information requested (names of the examiners and date of the thesis' assessment) can be considered personal data related to the President Tsai Ing-wen.

Then, the DPA evaluated if the disclosure of this information would have been lawful, fair and transparent, according to the Art. 5(1)(a) of the GDPR.

With regards to the lawfulness of the request, one of the legal bases listed in Article 6(1) of the GDPR must apply to the processing. In this case, the Supervisory Authority specified that the 'legitimate interest' (art. 6(1)(f)) would underlie as the most appropriate basis.

Therefore, the ICO proceeded to assess the three-part test (legitimate interest, necessity and balancing tests) to see what would be the outcome.

As mention above, the data subject was interested in the legitimacy of President Tsai’s 1984 thesis (legitimate intest test) and, in his view, disclosing the names of the examiners who assessed the thesis, and the date when they ‘signed it off’, would have been necessary to support that the thesis was a valid piece of work (necessary test).

However, The Authority clarified that the fact that the thesis was officially listed in the publicly searchable University library provided the confirmation of a qualification of the President Tsai Ing-wen, thus the disclosure of the requested information would not be necessary for this purpose.

Furthermore, moving to the balancing test, the ICO interpreted this to mean that neither President Tsai nor the examiners would have expected their personal data to be released so many years before the introduction of the FOIA. Whilst President Tsai might reasonably expect this now, in particular in order to end the 'ongoing public controversy' on this topic, the Commissioner considered that disclosure remains beyond the examiners’ expectations. It is therefore possible that disclosing this information would cause them distress.

Taking into account this evaluation, the Authority rejected the request of the data subject and confirmed the choice of the University of London to withhold these pieces of information, in the light of the insufficient legitimate interest of the individual to take priority over the data subjects’ fundamental rights and freedoms.


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English Machine Translation of the Decision

The decision below is a machine translation of the English original. Please refer to the English original for more details.

The decision below is a machine translation of the English original. Please refer to the English original for more details.