February 2006 Archives

Following on from the claim that the Interception of Communications Commissioner, is technically exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, we emailed the Department for Constitutional Affairs to have this public office added to the List of Organisations in Schdeule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Here is the reply:

Thank you for your email asking us to cover under section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner for Northern Ireland and the Office of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and Assistant Surveillance Commissioners). If these bodies and offices do in fact meet the conditions in s. 4 FOIA, there is no obligation for the Secretary of State to add all bodies that meet the section 4 conditions to the Act.

All of them are appointed by the Prime Minister, as a result of an Act of Parliament. Both of the section 4 conditions are clearly met.

However his policy is that where bodies meet the conditions they should be added to the Act, apart from in a few exceptional cases where it is not appropriate to do so. One case is where it is likely that no additional information could be released under the Act. In such instances, we feel that it would be misleading to the public to add a body to Schedule 1 and of no additional value in terms of accountability.

Are they saying that "Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner for Northern Ireland and the Office of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and Assistant Surveillance Commissioners)" are all examples of such "exceptional cases" ?

For example, tribunals are not covered by the Act because court records are exempt from release under the Act. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners is a tribunal and therefore we have not brought it under the Act.

It must be disputed that the Office of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, Sir Andrew Leggatt, is actually a tribunal.

His functions are analagous to that of the Office of the Information Commissioner, who also hears certain appeals, and issues Decision Notices etc. via letter or email, but does not actually preside over a Tribunal, with the power to call witnesses etc. and whose decisions are subject to an actual Tribunal.

There is such a Tribunal, established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) Section 65, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/00023--f.htm#65

which is currently headed by Lord Justice Munnery, who, together with the other members of the Tribunal are appointed by Her Majesty through Letters Patent.

None of the Commissioners appointed by the Prime Minister under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act serve as members of this Tribunal, and are, in fact, expected to testify before it as witnesses.

We did not, therefore, ask for this Investigatory Powers Tribunal or the Intelligence Services Tribunal to be added to Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The other RIPA Commissioners apart ftom the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, have even less of a claim to be considered as Tribunals, and their decisions are subject to the Interception Powers Tribunal and/or the Intelligence Services Tribunal.

As you are no doubt aware, the Security Agencies are not "public authorities" under the Act (by virtue of the definition of "government department" in section 84 of the Act).

The Commissioners are bound by statute to report annually to parliament, and this meets the public interest in these areas of government work. Because their work relates to security and intelligence and the detection and prevention of crime, it is likely that other information held by these bodies would be covered by one or more of the Act's exemptions.

Some of the RIPA Commissioners' work does indeed relate to secret intelligence matters, but the vast majority of it relates to normal crime, in exactly the same way as with various Police Forces, and Police Authorities, all of which do have Publication Schemes under the Freedom of Information Act.

There are matters of transparency and the public interest on which the Commissioners could respond to Freedom of information Act requests, within the protection of the Exemptions to the Act, without posing any risk to the confidential matters which they are meant to be providing public scrutiny of.

They could publish their own financial and expense accounts, meeting diaries, web site traffic statistics and advice and guidance to practioners, guidance on new technological developments e.g. Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems, or on forthcoming legislation e.g. new European Union Directives, and publish copies of their previous reports etc.

The RIPA Commissioners are being asked to expand their oversight roles, into areas where they do not actually have any formal statutory powers, e.g. the interceptions of communications in Prisons, or the access by the intelligence agencies to the proposed National Identity Register etc., The public should be able to request information, for example, to see if these additional roles and responsibilities are being properly funded and resourced by the Government.

There is even a precedent, in the public interest, for publishing statistics about the number of requests and appeals to these Commissioners from the public, in exactly the same way as the Information Commissioner had to acknowledge the current backlog of Freedom of Information Act appeals which his Office is trying to deal with.

Is it not the aim of the Freedom of Information Act to promote a culture of openness, which means that actual Freedom of Information Act requests per se, are unnecessary ?

Best wishes,

AAA BBB
Information Rights Division

Freedom of information, and public trust and transparency, for these RIPA Commissioners, is at least as important, in the public interest, as for any of the other public bodies currently covered by Schedule 1.

We would urge the Department for Constitutional Affairs to reconsider, and to add these RIPA Commissioners to Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act as soon as possible.

Our original email request:

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.

WhatDoTheyKnow.com

WhatDoTheyKnow.com - FOIA request submission and publication website from MySociety.org

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team." - does this apply to the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government as well ?

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests

foi.mysociety.org - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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