Your 1st place for FoI News
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Details of “Bad Science” BSc to be revealed

    Posted on May 1st, 2009 admin No comments
    A student preparing herself for the Homeopathy practical?

    A student preparing herself for the Homeopathy practical?

    I have found the following article in the Times Higher Education Supplement that I think is of interest. One of the most startling points of the following case - in which the university has been ordered to disclose all the materials associated with its homeopathy course - is that at one point they used the S.21 exemption (available by another means) on the basis that the applicant could pay to enroll on the course and after shelling out almost £10,000 over three years he could view the course documents. That argument failed. The university also unsuccessfully tried to apply S.36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of Public Affairs), S41 (Information Provided in Confidence) and S.43 (Commercial Interests).

    The article said:

    Teaching materials used on a BSc degree in homoeopathy must be released to a campaigner against “pseudo-scientific” courses, the Information Commissioner has ruled.

    The ruling will force the University of Central Lancashire to submit to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act by David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, and could set a precedent for the sector.

    Professor Colquhoun, who is well known for a blog he writes attacking what he sees as phoney science, first submitted requests for the material to Uclan in July 2006.

    The university refused to comply on the grounds that the material was commercially confidential and could be reasonably accessed by other means - namely, by enrolling on the course.

    In addition, it argued that “the effective conduct of public affairs” would be prejudiced or likely to be prejudiced by releasing the requested information.

    Despite Uclan’s protests, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled that none of the exemptions that organisations can rely upon to withhold information applied in this case.

    He said that the university could not be considered a commercial organisation for FoI purposes, and must now release the course materials, bar any case notes that refer to patients.

    The course under scrutiny has closed, but Professor Colquhoun told Times Higher Education that this did not mean the information was no longer of interest or detract from the precedent set by the commissioner’s ruling.

    “The course that prompted the request is no longer the point,” he said. “What matters is that all the usual exemptions claimed by universities have been ruled invalid.

    “In future, they will not be able to refuse requests for teaching materials … people will be able to get hold of whole courses if they want to.”

    A spokesman for Uclan said it would appeal the decision.

    Professor Colquhoun’s blog on the case can be found here and the decision notice is here.

  • More patient data going AWOL

    Posted on May 1st, 2009 admin No comments
    Is that our missing memory stick?

    Is that our missing memory stick?

    The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned another four NHS authorities about the way slipshod way they are handling patient data. All four organisations have signed undertakings to improve.

    The public rebuke to the authorities comes hard on the heels of similar warnings to other health organisations reported here at ‘Password Blunder Blamed for Prison Breach’ and ‘Carers warned……

    Mick Gorrill, Assistant Information Commissioner at the ICO, said: “These four cases serve as a stark reminder to all NHS organisations that sensitive patient information is not always being handled with adequate security.

    “It is a matter of significant concern to us that in the last six months it has been necessary to take regulatory action against 14 NHS organisations for data breaches. In these latest cases staff members have accessed patient records without authorisation and on occasions, have failed to adhere to policies to protect such information in transit. There is little point in encrypting a portable media device and then attaching the password to it.

    “Data protection must be a matter of good corporate governance and executive teams must ensure they have the right procedures in place to properly protect the personal information entrusted to them. Failure to do so could result in patient information, including sensitive medical records and treatment details falling into the wrong hands. Ultimately, the organisations risk losing the confidence of patients and their families.

    “The Data Protection Act clearly states that organisations must take appropriate measures to ensure that personal information is kept secure. These four organisations recognise the seriousness of these data losses and have agreed to take immediate remedial action.”

    St Georges Healthcare, London. Six laptop computers were stolen from the hospital’s Cardiac Management Offices. The laptops held information relating to almost 22,000 patients including their name, date of birth, contact details, hospital number and brief details of the patient’s planned treatment. Due to network connection problems the patient data had been stored on laptops against the Trust’s policy and the data was not encrypted.

    Cambridge University Hospital Trust. A car wash attendant found a memory stick which when plugged into a computer revealed it held data belonging to the Trust and contained personal data of 741 patients. The memory stick, which was privately owned and unencrypted, contained data relating to medical treatment and had been left in an unattended car by a staff member from the hospital. The data had been downloaded on to the memory stick without the knowledge of the Trust.

    The North West Hospitals NHS Trust. Two laptop computers stolen from the Audiology department of Central Middlesex Hospital held information on 181 patients including their name, date of birth, NHS or hospital number and hearing test results. The data was not encrypted. In a separate incident a desktop computer was stolen from the Clinical Haematology offices at Northwick Park Hospital. That computer held information on 180 patients including their name, hospital number, date of birth and some clinical follow up information. At the time of the theft, the swipe card security system that controlled entry to the building had been disabled for maintenance. The database containing the personal data in question was password protected, but was not encrypted.

    Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust. A desktop PC, containing details of 300 patients, was lost during refurbishment of the renal dialysis office and a disused laptop, which held the data on around 2000 cancer patients was stolen from a locked office. Both devices were unencrypted.

    The individual undertakings issued by the ICO can be seen here.

  • Journalist to give update on FoI’s progress

    Posted on May 1st, 2009 admin No comments

    FoI officers have been invited to a talk at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism to hear Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight’ give a report on the media’s use of the legislation.

    His paper, entitled ‘A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM: Journalism, Government and the Freedom of Information Act’, explores not only the media’s use of the Act but the way it has changed the reporting landscape for journalists and public authorities.

    The session, which is open to all, is being held at the Reuters Institute, in Oxford, on May 20, at 5pm. (link)

    Also in attendance will be Jon Ungoed-Thomas, Chief reporter of The Sunday Times and Steve Wood, former blogger and now Assistant Information Commissioner.

    Below is a little bit of information about the report:

    Journalists using the Freedom of Information Act have forced details of MPs’ Second Homes allowances into the open, with embarrassing results for Home Secretary , Jacqui Smith and other Ministers. Many other revelations have come about through the Act in the spirit of Open Government.

    But over four years the Act has become a game of Cat and Mouse with Whitehall with protracted delays and appeals to official arbiters like the Information Commissioner making requests for Information a gamble for journalists working to a deadline.

    ‘A Shock to the System’ is an incisive and informative report by Jeremy Hayes of BBC Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight into how FOI is working in Britain. Mr Hayes, a BBC Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, has interviewed the main players in the Freedom of Information world. He explores the pressures in the Civil Service and government which led Justice Secretary, Jack Straw to veto the release of Cabinet papers over the decision to go to war in Iraq, as well as other critical policy decisions.

    He reveals the growing role of Campaign organizations in using the Act to bolster their agenda and explains why to some journalists, with an eye on public bodies like Health Trusts and national agencies, FOI has become a gold mine for disclosures of  previously confidential information.