February 2010 Archives

The Information Commissioner has now issued a Decision Notice FS50216168 dated 25th January 2010::

6. The complainant wrote to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on 28 January 2008 requesting information about the tax categories of individuals for whom security is a higher priority.

'Regarding the story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper of Saturday 26 January 2008 about the security, privacy and confidentiality of tax returns and the Parliamentary Oral Answer given by the Financial Secretary to HM Treasury

'Regarding the story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper of Saturday 26 January 2008 about the security, privacy and confidentiality of tax returns and the Parliamentary Oral Answer given by the Financial Secretary to HM Treasury

1) Please list these special "categories of individual for whom security is a higher priority"
2) Approximately how many people are in each special category?
3)Who exactly makes the decision to to put someone into one of these special categories ?
4) When, if ever, is an individual removed from such a special category?
5) Does a special category extend to an individual's family as well?
6) How long has this policy of special categories been in place ?
7) Who exactly authorised this special category policy?
8) How exactly does adding an extra digit to a tax code or other special markings to a paper tax return, make it less of a target for human snooping or electronic sniffing of the data once it is in digital form? Surely this contravenes the well established security principles for handling 'sensitive' data whilst it is sharing common office or electronic network infrastructure ie that it should be indistinguishable from the rest of the data or documents, to reduce the temptation to casual snoopers ?
9) What about the previous 24 year tax record history of an individual before they become a 'celebrity' or politician etc?
10) Are these special category tax records included in the datasets handed over, through the statutory gateway, to the DWP Longitudinal Study? http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/longitudinal_study/ic_longitudinal_study.asp
11) What is the approximate annual cost of the extra infrastructure and personnel resources needed to handle these special categories?'

This has resulted in:

The Decision

91. The Commissioner's decision is that the public authority did not deal with the request for information in accordance with the Act:
• it breached section 1 (1 )(b) by not providing the complainant with the requested information wrongly withheld under sections 36 and 38;
• it breached section 10(1) by not confirming to the complainant within the statutory timescale that it held the requested information;
• it breached section 10(1) by not providing the complainant with information within the statutory timescale;
• it breached section 17(1) by not providing the complainant with a valid refusal notice within the statutory timescale; and
• it breached section 17(1)(b) and (c) by failing to specify and explain exemptions it later relied on.

Steps Required


92 The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the Act:

• disclose the list of special categories not exempt by virtue of section 23 or 44;
• disclose the number of people in each special category not exempt by virtue of section 23 or 44:
• disclose the name of the decision maker who makes the decision to put someone in one of the special categories; and
• disclose the information withheld in relation to questions 4, 5 and 9.

93. The public authority must take the steps required by this notice within 35 calendar days of the date of this notice.

Will Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs disclose the requested information,as ordered to by the Information Commissioner, or will they waste public money and our time, by trying to appeal ?

Given the recent European Court of Human Rights judgement about the controversial and widely abused Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 "stop and search" without "reasonable suspicion" legal powers, and, without any measurable positive effect on terrorism, we think that the Home Office and the Information Commissioner's Office are both very wrong in their decision to refuse our modest Freedom of Information Act request.

See European Court of Human Rights Judgment against the Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 stop and search without reasonable cause powers

More comments on this Decision Notice soon, when we have some feedback from our expert friends.

Reference: FS50198733

Information Commissioner's Office

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Section 50)
Decision Notice Date: 8 February 2010

Public Authority: Address:
The Home Office
Seacote Building
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P4DF

[...]

Summary


The complainant requested copies of all Authorisations for the power to stop and search issued under the Terrorism Act 2000. During the investigation, the request was refined as being for certain information contained within those Authorisations.

The public authority refused to release any information citing the exemptions at section
23 (Information supplied by or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters), section
24 (National security) and section 31 (Law enforcement). The complainant did not contest any information withheld by virtue of section 23.

The Commissioner's decision is that the exemption at section 24(1) is engaged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure. He finds that this exemption applies to all the remaining information sought by the complainant so the exemption at section 31 has not been further considered.

The Commissioner has also identified procedural breaches which are outlined in the Notice below. The complaint is therefore partly upheld.

[...]

59. As cited in paragraph 34 above, "... 'national security' means the security of the United Kingdom and its people". The Commissioner is of the opinion that releasing the requested information would cause specific and real threats to national security. He believes that the information could be used by terrorists to support and influence their activity. He therefore believes that any advantages gained by further informing the public would be significantly outweighed by the factors for protecting the public by maintaining the exemption. The complaint is therefore not upheld.

60. As the Commissioner finds that all of the remaining requested information (to
which section 23 does not apply) is exempt by virtue of section 24(1) he has not gone on to consider the exemption at section 31(1 )(a), (b) and (c).

[..]

The decision


66. The Commissioner's decision is that the public authority dealt with the following elements of the request in accordance with the requirements of the Act:

  • the requested information was properly withheld under the exemption at section 24(1) of the Act.

67. However, the Commissioner has also decided that the following elements of the request were not dealt with in accordance with the Act:

  • in failing to provide a response compliant with section 1(1 )(a) within 20 working days of receipt of the request, the public authority breached section 10(1);
  • in exceeding the statutory time limit for providing a response the public authority breached section 17(1).

Steps required


68. The Commissioner requires no steps to be taken.


Other matters


69. Although they do not form part of this Decision Notice the Commissioner wishes to highlight the following matters of concern.

[...]


Information Notice

75. During the course of his investigation, the Commissioner has encountered considerable delay on account of the Home Office's reluctance to meet the timescales for response set out in his letters. The delays were such that the Commissioner found it necessary to issue an Information Notice in order to obtain details relevant to his investigation.

76. Accordingly, the Commissioner does not consider the Home Office's approach to this case to be particularly co-operative, or within the spirit of the Act. As such he will be monitoring the authority's future engagement with the ICO and would expect to see improvements in this regard.

[...]

Read the full Decision Notice (hopefully without too many OCR and editing errors):

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

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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

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