Recently in Suggestions for FOIA request Category

A reader of this blog draws our attention to a long running battle with bureacracy at the Driver and Vehicle Licesnsing Agency, which seems to have been resolved by a Freedom of Information Act request:

"Thought you might be interested a forum posting I read today.

It concerns somebody's attempts to get a simple geographic number
alternative to the DVLA's 0870 numbers so they can be contacted at a
lower cost and from outside the UK.

They had various evasive and downright inaccurate responses and kept
saying that they were not give out such a number. The person then sent
an FOI request and got a simple reply on the 20th day:

http://www.saynoto0870.com/cgi-bin/forum/YaBB.cgi?board=news;action=display;num=1095264985

The final response is on page three by "idb" if you don't have time to
read much of it.

Thanks, and keep up the good work!"

One good comment in the discussion thread is a riposte to the suggestion that people should contact the BBC's "Watchdog" consumer rights TV programme about the issue - except that they too are profiting from a Premium Rate 0870 number !

It is not just the DVLA which has switched over to 0870 Premium Rate phone numbers for their main public enquiry phone line, in contravention of the offical guidlines quoted in the forum discussion thread above, so has the Home Office, and the Department for Education and Skills.

A Google search reveals that lots of other UK Government departments and agencies are also ripping off the public with 0870 Premium Rate numbers from which they derive, more and more revenue, the longer they keep you hanging on the phone.

The Inland Revenue, the National Health Service Direct system and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs use a 0845 "national local rate" numbers, but these are also often more expensive than a direct phone call, for many people.

Is it worth asking, via FOIA requests, who made the decisions to move over to 0870 Premium Rate phone numbers in each of these cases, and how they can be justified for the main public phone enquiry lines for public services ? What role did the telecomms sales people have in getting public authorities to change over to these relatively expensive services ?

There may be a place for premium rate numbers for some specialised services, but surely the main public enquiry phone numbers for Government Departments and Agencies should be 0800 Freephone numbers within the United Kingdom, many of which are available to contact various Government Departments, with normal Subscriber Trunk Dialing international contact number alternatives ?

Is it just a coincidence that after our suggestion of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department for Work and Pensions, that they actually update their Longitudinal Study webpage ?

Perhaps this long overdue update was actually prompted by the visitors that this blog had from the UK Parliament and the central Government Secure Intranet yesterday.

Interestingly, the updated table of approved project uses for the controversial combined Social Security and Inland Revenue datasets, now includes varuous "REMOVED" entries.

Does this mean that even this summary of Business Cases has been redacted or censored from publication on the public world wide web ? e.g.

Case NumberTeam name
08Neighbourhood Statistical Team
10IAD Operational Research
19Jobseeker Analysis Division
26Disability and Carers Directorate
29IAD Operational Research
32Jobseeker Analysis Division
38Economy and Labour Market Division (ELMD)

N.B. for Business Case 38, there is still an entry of "3" in the column for the "No of users given access"

Can we believe statements like:

"These have been and will be updated in the list below and posted on this page every three months."

which are demonstrably untrue - the old data from January last year was what was available to the public until at least Wednesday 5th January 2005 (we have saved copies)

There is still no information about the composition of the Ethics Committee, if it exists, or of any method to contact the committee, independent of the DWP bureaucracy.

FOIA requests to Central Government Departments are all very well and good, but there are thousands of Public Bodies which fall under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Many of the list of exemptions do not apply to them.

In this category come Quasi Autonomous Non Govermental Organisations (QUANGOs) or Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) through which various governments have tried to weasel out of having to take the political blame when things go wrong, by claiming not to have day to day control, but which they attempt to micromanage centrally , especially in terms of budgets and statistical targets.

One such seems to be the extraordinary mishmash which now constitutes the Office of Communications, Ofcom

Department for Work and Pension - Inland Revenue Longitudinal Study

We are still concerned that after an inital flurry of "open government" last year, the controversial linking of social security benefits, pensions and tax data, without any individual informed consent i.e. sidestepping the Data Protection Act because of Primary Legislation, has lapsed into secrecy and obscurity
c.f.

Where is the DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee ?

DWP-IR Longitudinal Study racial profiling

The very first use to which this combined data has been put is to create an electronic map of racial, ethnic and religous minorities, for compliance with the Race Relations Act. However, this is also an ideal tool for any future extremist government
to produce, at the touch of a button a list of addresses and a map of locations, to harass. arrest, deport or even kill such minorities.

So where are the safeguards and oversight of such a powerful system ?

Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study - Safeguards:

"Ethics Committee
An ethics committee will be established to consider proposals which have a significant ethical dimension. The Head of Data Services in DWP will be responsible for day-to-day decision-making on access to the data. The Ethics Committee will monitor the decisions and will advise on those decisions which the Head of Data Services has referred to the Committee. The Committee will consider expert legal advice and will be made up of statistical and research experts as well as representatives of employers and individuals."

A year after this web page went online, and there is still no mention of who exactly is serving on this Ethics Committee, or any information about its reports or any contact details or any mechnaism for members of the public to complain.

Quarterly publication of the uses

To ensure that DWP are accountable to the public for all work on the data, an internet and paper-based list of uses (existing and new) will be published every 3 months."

There has been no update of this alleged "quarterly update" after the first quarter of 2004 - where are the missing three quarterly updates ? Even if no new uses for these controversial combined Social Security and Inland Revenue datasets have been sanctioned since April 2004, then that should be made public.

Proposed Freedom of Information Act Request for information on:

All emails, minutes of meetings and reports pertaining to the Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee.

The missing three quarterly publications of permitted uses of the Longitudinal Study Datasets.

Given the number of admitted breaches of computer security by staff at the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions (hundreds of cases a year dealt with through internal discplinary action, rather than the virtually useless Computer Misuse Act or the Data Protection Act), how many of these incidents involved people or systems with direct or indirect access to the Longitudinal Study datsets, both at the DWP, and at the IR ?

Have the combined Longitudinal Study datasets been made available in whole or in part, in batch processing mode, or in realtime, to any other UK Government Departments or Agencies, or to any Commercial Companies, or to any Foreign Governments ? If so, under whose authority, to whom, when, why ? etc.

How many complaints have there been from members of the public regarding the Longitudinal Study ?

How many members of the public have been supplied with copies of their own Longitudinal Study data ?

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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