We have now had a reply to our Freedom of Information Act Request "Cabinet Office - missing RIPA Commissioner Annual Reports for 2005", less than 4 hours after our reminder email actually got through to the new Cabinet Office FOI Team.
We had expected the Cabinet Office to simply confirm that they had the two documents, and that they would be published soon, so therefore the Freedom of Information Act 1998 Section 22: Information Intended For Future Publication Exemption, would apply.
Instead, the reply from the Cabinet office states:
I am writing to advise you that following a search, I have established that the information you requested is not held by this Department. I can inform you, however, that the reports will be published in due course. When received, they will be laid before each House of Parliament by the Prime Minister in accordance with the provisions of the Regulatory and Investigatory Powers Act.
The mystery deepens, so here is some speculation:
- How likely is it that the outgoing Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner, all of whose previous Annual Reports were submitted to the Prime Minister by July of the year after the calendar year to which they refer, would not have done so for their 2005 reports ? Their fellow RIPA Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner did submit his 2005 - 2006 Annual Report, and it was published online by July 2006.
- Remember that anything which might compromise national security or personal data privacy is excluded from the public parts of these reports.
- Is there some matter of controversy, which would normally have had to have been reported in the public section of the Reports, over which one or more secret intelligence agencies or
law enforcement authorities is trying to suppress ?
- Is the Prime Minister Tony Blair suppressing the Reports for some other, political, reason ?
- Has there been a breach of the "Wilson Doctrine" regarding the interception of phones, internet or postal services belonging to Members of the House of Commons or Members of the House of Lords ?
- Is there disagreement between the two Commissioners, over an area of overlap between their two remits, e.g. the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Part III Investigation of Electronic Data Protected by Encryption etc
- Has one or more of the intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6 or GCHQ) been criticised by these two independent RIPA Commissioners ?
- Has there been a massive rise in the number of interception warrants issued, compared with previous years ?
- Is there some administrative dispute about money or resources, involving these two distinguished RIPA Commissioners, which has led to this unprecedented delay with their Annual Reports ?
- Does the blame for the delay in publication lie elsewhere, e.g. with Tony Blair's inner circle of advisers and apparatchiki ?
The longer the Government delays in publishing these reports, then the more speculation and conspiracy theories will arise.
That is not what was intended by Parliament when RIPA was passed into law, and it further damages public trust in those who wield the massive surveillance powers of the state.