It may take some time for the penny to drop that the new Freedom of Information Act has handed competitors a powerful intelligence tool.
Businesses should be taking steps now to protect their commercially sensitive and confidential information when dealing with any public authority, law firm Hammonds has warned.
The public now has important new rights to the information held by public authorities, but the Act affects every private sector body because of its relationships with the public sector.
More than 115,000 public authorities are subject to the FOI regime, from Government departments and local authorities to the armed forces, museums and advisers.
From January 1 public authorities have been forced to comply with requests for information held unless an exemption from disclosure applies. The Act applies to information recorded in any form so it includes maps, plans, photographs, and video and audio recorded information. And it is retrospective.
"The private sector seems slow to realise that information available to the public includes not only information concerning the authority itself, but also information it holds relating to others, including its suppliers and other contractors," said Sally Jones, commercial director at the Birmingham office of Hammonds.
"So information supplied for submissions to tender to a local authority or on the evaluation of bids on a public procurement exercise is potentially disclosable.
"A lot of information will have been provided in the past under the assumption that no one else would ever see it but now it is covered by the Act - a party has no right to notice before a public authority discloses recorded information it holds relating to that party following an information request."