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  • Government’s London 2012 Olympic report to stay secret

    Posted on March 27th, 2009 admin No comments

    No gold medals for disclosure

    No gold medals for disclosure

    A document prepared for Government ministers about the potential pros and cons or winning an Olympic bid looks set to stay secret until at least after the London 2012 Olympics.


    The report to ministers was considered before the Government officially threw its hat into the Olympic rings to bid for the 2012 games.

    Although its contents will remain secret the Information Commissioner’s decision notice [FS50182402] suggests it offers a frank appraisal of the possible downsides of winning the race to host an Olympic Games.

    The request for the report was turned down initially by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) who relied upon S.35 (formulation and development of government policy). The decision was appealed to the Information Commissioner, where Deputy Commissioner Graham Smith upheld the refusal saying the exemption was engaged and the public interest test was not in favour of disclosure.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • FoI News learns to fly

    Posted on March 26th, 2009 admin No comments

    Do you twitter? Because FoI News tweets.

    Yes, if you are a twitterer then search for FoI News (you need a space between the words), make us a friend and you will get an automatic tweet whenever the blog is updated.

    I believe that is what young people commonly refer to as “cool”.

  • The answer to the question is: “I can’t tell you who asked the question”

    Posted on March 26th, 2009 admin 2 comments


    I'd like to make an FoI request but I'd rather nobody knew who I was. Is that ok?

    I'd like to make an FoI request but I'd rather nobody knew who I was. Is that ok?

    When a company or organisation makes a Freedom of Information request to a public authority can it expect its identity to remain secret? Amazingly it would appear the answer is: “Yes”.


    A decision by the Information Commissioner [FS50187314] has decided that for a public authority to disclose the identity of an organisation making a request would be an actionable breach of confidence and so is exempt under the Act by virtue of S.41 (information provided in confidence).

    The names of individual requestors have always tended to remain secret as the release of their identities was considered to be a breach of the Data Protection Act. Now however, it seems that companies, charities, pressure groups, residents’ associations and even political parties may be able to keep their requests secret.

    Explaining the rationale behind the decision the Assistant Commissioner Anne Jones said the public authority owed the special interest group an obligation of confidence, the release of the group’s name had the quality of confidence and it would suffer detriment as a result of its release into the public arena. She also said that the public interest test, which is part of the Breach of Confidence laws as opposed to the Freedom of Information laws, was not powerful enough to allow the group’s name to become public.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • ‘Carers’ warned over careless data losses

    Posted on March 25th, 2009 admin No comments


    Make sure computers are disposed of properly
    Make sure computers are disposed of properly

    Three separate health authorities have got into trouble with the Information Commissioner in the last two months for losing sensitive patient data.

    The Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which essentially are responsible for controlling the funding to GPs and hospitals within an area, have had to pledge to improve the security of patient data or risk prosecution.

    Brent PCT got into trouble after two laptops were stolen in a break-in at the organisation. The stolen computer held the details of 389 patients, including the health details of some of the individuals. The data was not encrypted and the laptop was left on the desk, which was a breach of the PCT’s policy

    Hastings and Rother PCT also had a computer stolen which contained sensitive patient data. The building that was broken into did not have adequate security and the data controller had previously expressed worries about the lack of security at the premises. The PCT has now had to agree to make sure all office equipment and mobile devices are encrypted.

    Camden PCT got into trouble after computers containing the data of 2,500 people, their addresses and their medical diagnoses were left beside a skip in the grounds of St Pancras Hospital. The computers, which were no longer in use and were not encrypted, later vanished and have never been recovered.

    It would appear that the Information Commissioner’s Office has serious concerns about the way patients’ data is handled by health authorities. These enforcement notices are clearly a warning shot to other organisations to ensure they tighten up their own procedures.

    Mick Gorrill, Assistant Information Commissioner, said: “I am increasingly concerned about the way some NHS organisations dispose of sensitive patient information.

    “Organisations need to ensure they implement appropriate safeguards to ensure personal details about patients are disposed of in compliance with the Data Protection Act.”

  • The grisly case of the sheep on the moors and the photos that’ll turn you mad

    Posted on March 20th, 2009 admin No comments



    Where's Watson when you need him?

    Where's Watson when you need him?

    A mystery on the moors, local police are baffled, a gruesome maniac disembowelling sheep…… It has all the ingredients of a Sherlock Holmes story, but these are in fact the details of a decision notice issued by the Commissioner that raise a few interesting legal points.


    The ICO upheld a decision by Devon and Cornwall police to refuse a request which had asked for access to the documents, including veterinary and forensic reports relating to a sheep attack incident in which a number of the animals had been killed.




    Eventually the matter rested on a S.30 exemption (investigations) relating to a bundle of evidence in the case which comprised of:

    • A log of the initial report of the sheep deaths,
    • A record of the steps taken by the public authority in response to the report,
    • A witness statement, and
    • Photographs of the dead sheep.

    Devon and Cornwall police said the public interest was in favour of the maintenance of the exemption saying the release of the information might stop people coming forward with evidence in this case and in others.

    Nobody has been charged with the crime – which is logged as ‘criminal damage’ – and the case has been closed, although it could be re-opened if new information comes forward.

    Officials at the ICO studied the case and sided with the police saying that the exemption had been correctly applied and that the public interest test was assessed correctly.

    However, a number of interesting points flow from the decision.



    "I'm not bleating, but sheep murder = criminal damages. What about my rights?"

    "I'm not bleating, but sheep murder = criminal damage. What about my rights?"



    Firstly the ICO reiterated the point first set out by the Tribunal in the ‘Jeremy Thorpe case’ [EA/2006/0017] when it considered the double-edged argument of the age of the information relating to S.30.

    It stated that obviously as the age of an enquiry goes on the chance of prejudice reduces, but at the same time the age of the matter means the public interest also diminishes. It would appear from the rulings that these two opposing forces reduce at an equal rate – effectively cancelling each other out.

    It then leaves us with a determining factor that would appear to be: “Did the investigation lack integrity and probity?” In our sheep on the moors case the ICO seems happy that the police did a good job and so the papers will remain secret.

    But I thought the point of FoI was that organisations would be publicly accountable and we could all make our own judgements based on the facts. It would seem from this judgement that somebody within the ICO is setting themselves up as an expert on how police investigations should be conducted and having looked at the papers has given Devon and Cornwall police a clean bill of health. I thought that was a job for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

    The logical extension of this judgement is that a request for evidence will only be released if it shows police incompetence, and the ICO has set itself up as the best person to assess that! It begs the question how many former police officers are now working as complaint officers at the ICO to assess with any level of expertise whether an investigation has been carried out with “integrity and probity”.

    Also of interest in this decision was the police initially claiming the release of the savaged sheep photos would “have an adverse affect on the community as a whole” suggesting that viewing the images would endanger the mental well being of those who saw them. The ICO rightly said if this was the case then it should have been a S.38 (health and safety) exemption rather than a S.30 exemption.

    I have found a couple of news stories (here and here) which I think could be the original incident.

  • One rule for us….One rule for them?

    Posted on March 20th, 2009 admin No comments

    I’ve had an interesting comment come in from a FoI officer in relation to the secret Maddy e-mails decision notice (link). It reads:

    I am an FoI lead for a public sector organisation. I have not identified myself in the contact details I have supplied as this is a response in my personal capacity.

    This outrages me, when I think of what information we have to relase. How can we be expected to uphold the principles of FoI if the Government does not? This is not the first time this has happened (Iraq, minutes pertaining to…)

    I rest my case: it has always been clear FoI was only supported by the Government to the extent it served their purposes, but I am surprised at the ICO response to this. Must really be damning to the Portuguese authorities as the editor sugggests.

    Do you think this is true? Vote in the poll. Add your comment. Is their a two-tier system of FoI developing? Let us know your thoughts.

    Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
  • Maddy search e-mails to remain secret

    Posted on March 18th, 2009 admin 1 comment

    secretSensitive e-mails concerning the hunt for missing child Madeleine McCann will remain secret for fear of offending the Portuguese authorities who were tasked with finding her.

    A request for the disclosure of 13 e-mails and one letter, which were written in the two months after Madeleine went missing, was refused by the Information Commissioner.

    The Foreign Office had dealt with the original request which had asked for copies of communication between the then Ambassador to Portugal John Buck and the Portuguese police. Some information was supplied immediately and another batch was released after the requester called in the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to hold an appeal.

    However, a number of documents were not released by the Foreign Office and these were examined by officers from the ICO.

    The documents were not released by the Foreign Office primarily on the grounds that they were covered by the Section 27 exemption (International Relations) and that the public interest test rested in favour of non-disclosure. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Questionnaires make you: (a) annoyed, (b) angry or (c) tearful.

    Posted on March 18th, 2009 admin No comments

    The Information Commissioner’s office has released new guidance on how public bodies should deal with round-robin requests and questionnaires.

    The guidance reminds authorities that such requests are legal under the Act and should be treated no differently from any other request.

    It states that following the receipt of a questionnaire the person dealing with the request has a duty to identify which questions amounts to requests on information you hold and be prepared to offer advice and assistance.

    However, the guidance does say that such a request can still be refused if it is deemed to breach the cost limits of seen to be “manifestly unreasonable”.

  • FOI Live 2009 - Where the money goes

    Posted on March 13th, 2009 admin No comments

    Are you going to FoI Live 2009? As the credit crunch bites FoI News wondered about the finances of this information law showpiece. If I want to go it will cost around £500!conference

    Intrigued about where all this public money was going FoI News asked University College, London, how the dosh was split up after everybody had gone home. It would have been amusing if they had applied the S.43 (Commercial Interests) exemption, but good sports that they were they revealed the information.

    Below is the question FoI News posed and the answer from University College.



    Please note that I believe this information will be held by the Constitution Unit at your University.


    In relation to FoI Live conferences in 2008, 2007 and  2006 could you please provide me with full accounts which show:

    i)                    The income received from delegates

    ii)                   Any other sources of income

    iii)                 How much was paid to the conference organisers, and who were they?

    iv)                 After the costs of the conference organisers were subtracted from the total income what was left over, and how was that money shared out (please give figures and the names of companies/organisations that benefited)?

    v)                  Please provide me with any projected accounts for this year’s FoI Live.

    FOI Live conference costs
    Income received from delegates (£) Other sources of income (£) Conference organisers fee (£)*  Profit (£)**
    FOI Live 2006 121,279.31 0.00 66,032.27 55,247.04
    Organiser: Complete Support Group        
    FOI Live 2007 117,318.36 0.00 88,746.79 28,571.57
    Organiser: Lewis Live        
    FOI Live 2008 126,516.25 0.00 87,264.59 39,251.66
    Organiser: Istead Business Presentations        
    FOI Live 2009 126,225.00 0.00 88,458.00 37,767.00
    Organiser: Istead Business Presentations        
    * inclusive of all costs, e.g. venue, delegate management, AV and other materials
    ** All profits due to the Constitution Unit, UCL and no other parties      
  • Och Aye The Noo…We Are Better Than You

    Posted on March 13th, 2009 admin No comments
    There's a welcome in the hills for FoI

    There's a welcome in the hills for FoI

    Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner has launched an attack on the UK Government and Westminster saying those in power south of the border are losing their nerve about Freedom of Information.
    He says they are backsliding on their commitment to freedom of information and returning to the secrecy culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

    Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Mr Dunion highlighted Jack Straw’s first use of the ministerial veto to block the release of Cabinet minutes dealing with the Iraq war.

    He also said many MPs simply “don’t get” the concept of letting the public see the detail of how they spend taxpayers’ money, despite it being the norm at Holyrood.

    Mr Dunion said: “I discern a palpably different mood north and south of the border. I just wonder, where are the friends of FoI down south?

    “We are very keen to press ahead with the extension of FoI in Scotland, and we are in discussion with Bruce Crawford minister for parliamentary business.

    “Down south, the indications are that’s far from the government’s agenda. It’s more concerned with amending FoI, to make sure it doesn’t apply to things like Northern Rock and to use the veto to stop the release of Cabinet minutes.

    “Those are all really negative indicators from down south, which at the moment we don’t seem to have any parallel for in Scotland.”

    “The use by Jack Straw of the veto should not be at all downplayed,” said Dunion. “It is a nuclear option for a minister to press the button on using the veto and overriding not just the information commissioner, but the Information Tribunal.

    “We are now getting clear signals that English legislation may be amended so that Cabinet minutes become absolutely exempt. That is quite a departure from progressive thinking in FoI. That’s going back to 1960s, 1970s thinking.”

    His comments come as the SNP government considers whether to extend the reach of FoI to a new range of organisations in Scotland.

    Dunion has asked for the biggest Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts, including privately run Kilmarnock Prison, and around 80 arms-length council trusts, many handling leisure services, to be designated as open to FoI.

    Starting with housing associations owning more than 1000 homes, he has also asked for all 170 registered social landlords to be designated. The change would not expose private companies to every kind of FoI request, but it would open up specific contracts under which they carried out a public function, such as building a hospital or maintaining a school.