May 2009 Archives

The ICO has, quite promptly, responded to our FOIA request about possible Whitehall Civil Service secondees / moles working within the iCO.

See the original request via WhatDoThey Know.com:

"parent departments" of the 7 civil servants seconded to the ICO

1) The list of the "parent departments" of the "seven civil servants" on secondment to the Information Commissioner's Office, as mentioned in the Government's Response to the House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee:

We currently have six secondees working in the Information Commissioners Office. They are seconded to us from the Ministry of Justice, Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.

Thankfully nobody from the Home Office is working there, though, of course, the Ministry of Justice person/people may be ex-Home Office civil servants.

2) What exactly are the specific duties of these seven civil servants within the Information Commissioner's Office ?

The secondees are performing the duties of a Senior FOI Complaints Officer working within our Freedom of Information Operations Department. This department is responsible for investigating complaints received under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

[...]

3) How can the Information Commissioner's Office now be seen to remain independent of Whitehall ?

The secondees have been asked to sign an agreement which states that:

Information to which the secondee has access during the course of the secondment to the ICO must be treated as being private and confidential. The information must not be disclosed to parties outside the ICO either during or after the secondment period.

What criminal sanctions are there if such information is disclosed "in good faith" to other Government departments, police and intelligence agencies etc ?None at all.

The Common Law Duty of Confidentiality has been eroded to the point of destruction by this Labour Government;s terrorism, serious crime, financial reporting and child welfare legislation and regulations etc. etc.


Furthermore Freedom of Information Operations Department has a procedures manual which records the complaint process and is a resource for all caseworkers whilst investigating complaints received. Within the 'Investigation Stage' of the manual and when referring to allocation of complaints within teams its states:

'When allocating casework to secondees the Team Leader should ensure that no case is allocated to a secondee which involves their home department'.

All well and good, but the suspicion remains that these Whitehall civil service secondees will be more likely than not to interpret FOIA complaints in favour of Whitehall secrecy, rather than in favour of transparency and the public's right to know.

We will probably have to insist that our complaints to the ICO are not handled by Whitehall secondees, even though this might delay them somewhat - our complaints get delayed by months and years anyway.

At the very least, a complainant should be made aware that the ICO complaints Officer dealing with their FOIA complaint is, in fact, a Whitehall civil servant on secondment, and should be given the opportunity to have the complaint dealt with by regular, independent ICO staff.

It would be much more reassuring, if Information Commissioner's Office staff were seconded into Whitehall Government Departments, perhaps to conduct the Independent Reviews of FOIA requests

Note that this FOIA request was not refused on the grounds that only a pseudonym had been supplied rather than a "real name".

The ICO response:

Apologies for not blogging this recent FOIA "news" a bit earlier.

After a delay of over a year, the Information Commissioner's Office now has someone investigating the FOIA complaint about the Home Office regarding the request for just time, date and location details of where and when the controversial Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 "stop and search without reasonable cause" powers are temporarily in force.

This response from the ICO came 533 days or 1 year, 5 months, 16 days ago since the original request to the Home Office !

The ICO have already turned up a reference to the

Home Office Circular 038 2004

The 2004 Notes even state that the whole Authorisation Form is
"discloseable", so there really is no excuse for the Home Office's
refusal of my 2007 FOIA request !

"5. It must be remembered that the S.44 authorisation is a
discloseable document and, as such, care must be taken not to
include direct reference to matters that could compromise the
broader counter-terrorist activities carried out by Special
Branches or allied Agencies. To that end there should be no
reference to operation names or to classified briefing material
unless absolutely necessary - in which case the authorisation
should be protectively marked and handled in strict accordance with
Government Security Marking Guidelines"

As you would expect, both of these versions of the Authorisation Forms ask for Maps if these would be helpful:

4. There may be occasions where it would be helpful to those reviewing the extent of the authorisation for relevant maps etc to be attached clearly showing the area in question. Where it is necessary for the defined area to be explained in detail then it is acceptable for that information to be added as an appendix to the Authorisation.

The correspondence so far:

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.

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

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
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NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
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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

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Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
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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.

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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."

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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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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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