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  • Public row follows ACPO conference speech

    Posted on August 14th, 2009 admin No comments
    Richard Thomas - Going out with a bang

    Richard Thomas - Going out with a bang

    Those of you who attended the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)s Information Rights conference in June were in on the ground floor on the start of a row between the outgoing Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and the head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), the organisation that will soon be charged with holdings data on millions of people in a bid to keep children and vulnerable adults safe.

    Richard Thomas publicly expressed his annoyance at the ISA during his speech at the conference and this obviously annoyed Sir Roger Singleton who is in charge of the organisation. He wrote a letter to Mr Thomas asking him to withdraw the remarks only to get a response almost immediately saying he wouldn’t.

    I’ve got hold of the the exchange of letters between the ISA and the Information Commissioner’s Office which are below along with a more detailed story.

    Say sorry letter from the ISA

    Three letters between the ICO and ISA. Final one is from Richard Thomas stating he will not withdraw his remarks


    The bosses of the massive new ‘child safety’ database brought in after the Soham murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman has come under attack from the Government’s Information watchdog.

    The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which will hold a mass of information on 11million people who work with children and vulnerable adults, has been criticised for being “ill-prepared” and the Information Commissioner says he has “grave concerns” about the way it will operate.

    Top children’s authors such as Golden Compass writer Philip Pullman have also attacked the ISA, which will hold records on volunteers and professionals, saying the scheme goes “too far” and forces people “to clear their name from something they haven’t done.”

    The war of words between the two Government bodies has developed into a full blown hissy-fit with each organisation claiming they are the ones in the right and each claims they are waiting for a response from the other side.

    In an exchange of stinging letters the ISA is warned by the Information Commissioner that the huge database could:

    • Create a major incident if there is a security breach in the system,
    • Be open to abuse from staff within the ISA if there is no way of tracking the activity of the database operators,
    • Cause major controversy in that it will include allegations and suspicions of wrong-doing rather than just facts such as criminal convictions,
    • Become swamped by individuals making a request to see what is on their personal record.

    Last month the out-going Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, said: “The database would contain allegations, some rumour and some speculation. If officials start making wrong decisions or allow the data to get into the wrong hands the scope of the damage done both to individuals and the system as a whole is quite considerable.”

    His comments upset the ISA chairman Sir Roger Singleton who asked him to withdraw the comments.

    Mr Thomas hit back in a letter saying: “For over six months we have been trying to obtain information about how your data protection responsibilities will be fulfilled.

    “My previous letter expressed my ‘strong concerns’ about the delays and sought reassurance that there is not a lack of preparedness within the ISA. I outlined the major concerns which I regard as a priority.

    “Given the imminence of the launch in October, my letter concluded by seeking a response as a ‘matter of urgency’.

    “Two weeks after my letter I had not received even an acknowledgement, let alone a full response or the requested information.

    “In the circumstances I regret that I am unable to agree to your request that I should withdraw the comments that I made.”

    In an earlier letter Mr Thomas had moaned: “I am writing to express my strong concern about substantial and continuing delays in providing my Office with information about the proposed operations of the ISA.”

    A statement the ISA said: “The ISA assumed it had an on-going and productive dialogue with
    the Information Commissioner’s Office (including face to face meetings). Therefore the ISA was disappointed with the comments attributed to Mr Thomas, which indicate that he had some concerns with the ISAs response to his correspondence.

    “The Chief Executive of the ISA has received one letter from the Information Commissioner (27th May 2009) and responded in full on the 12th June 2009. 

    “We have written to both Information Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, to have these comments clarified and to highlight the positive work that has so far been undertaken by the ISA with the Commissioner’s Office - which we hope will continue. We are currently awaiting a reply.”

    Guy Herbert, General Secretary of anti-state database pressure group NO2ID, said: “That one of the government’s many voracious data-collection agencies is incapable or unwilling to meet the requirements of the government’s privacy-enforcement agency is, sadly, entirely predictable.

    “The ISA will make an institution out of ruining lives and careers with third-hand speculation and gossip. It will create a corrosive atmosphere in which everyone is guilty and must prove themeselves innocent.

    ” There is no evidence that a byzantine database containing, in this case, inaccuracies, half-truths and rumour will do anything to protect the groups it purports to defend.

    “The ISA and databases such as the National Identity Register and children’s database ContactPoint will - far from reducing risks - become enormous security risks themselves: huge repositories of information open to criminal hacking, insider fraud, data corruption and error.”