Is the Freedom Of Information Act now going to be used as a scapegoat or excuse like the Data Protection Act was, for inadequate handling of sensitive intelligence data by the Police ?
Are all FOIA requests to the Police going to be treated as if they were part of a "mosaic attack" i.e. a police style intelligence operation conducted by organised criminals or terrorists ?
It is worth checking the Register of Data Controllers to see if the public body which you send a Freedom of Information Act request to, has bothered to register a Data Purpose under the Data Protection Act which covers "Complainants, correspondents and enquirers"
This article published by the local newspaper icnetwork.co.uk makes one wonder just what exactly the Police have been doing over the last few years to perapare for the FOIA.
"Police fear over Information Act
Jan 2 2005
Police chiefs fear Midland gangland crime bosses and racist extremists will exploit the new Freedom of Information Act to unmask informers and outwit the authorities."
"The Act, which came into force yesterday, is intended to provide open access to details held by more than 100,000 public bodies, including police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
West Midlands Police has already dealt with lots of innocuous requests from the public, including queries about the location of speed cameras and statistics on robberies and shoplifting.
But senior officers say the Act will also give criminal gangs and organisations like the British National Party and Animal Liberation Front the chance to carry out ‘mosaic’ style attacks on police forces.
A police source explained: “By putting a series of apparently harmless questions to different forces and other law enforcement agencies, criminals could piece together a complete picture of a particular operation.
“Each request in its own right may not reveal that much. But if you put, say, 40 requests together it may reveal some very sensitive information about the source of the intelligence.”
He added: “This is very worrying, particularly for metropolitan forces like West Midlands which deals with its fair share of organised and gang crime which is mainly intelligence led."
Why is it a surprise that organised criminals and terrorists use exactly the same techniques, if they can, as the police or intelligence services do when reconnoitering a target ? In what way is this a new or novel phenomenon ?
"“Protecting witnesses and their identities is already a difficult enough task and there are fears that the new Act will make this crucial task even harder.”"
How exactly are FOIA requests, which need to be submitted in writing, and which are not likley to be dealt with and approved by one single person, more of a risk than traditional "social engineering"/confidence trick, espionage and infiltration, bribery and corruption techniques, tip offs to former collegues working as private detectives, tip offs to the tabloid news media etc. against which the Police should already have countermeasures in place ?
The government insists safeguards are in place to block the release of sensitive information which could pose a security risk.
Some categories of information are ‘absolutely exempt’ under the Act, which means certain public authorities like the National Criminal Intelligence Service or special forces, need not confirm or deny the existence of, let alone, disclose the information.
Last year the Association of Chief Police Officers gave forces across the country guidelines on implementing the Act.
It said information on ongoing police investigations would be included under the Act only if the the public interest is “significantly more than mere curiosity or interest in a particular investigation”.
So what is the problem then ?
"Deputy Chief Constable Ian Readhead, who helped produce the ACPO guidelines, said: “We are concerned that determined individuals will carry out what are called ‘mosaic’ attacks which were first identified by New South Wales police in Australia.
“Though there are legal safeguards in place, there is still the risk that a well organised criminal gang could use the Act to try and work out police strategies as well as identify possible informants or sources of complaints.”"
Far more worrying is the problem of corrupt or ideologically motivated insiders with full access to sensitive police intelligence or other databases c.f."Met Police spy Ghazi Kassim let off too lightly" or "DVLA database compromised by animal rights extremists"
A spokesman for West Midlands Police said: “We are confident that we have the authority to ensure powers granted under the Act are not abused.”"
So why is one spokesman contradicting the other one ?
c.f. West Midlands Police Publication Scheme which does not yet appear to have been updated with any actual contact details.