House of Commons - designation of Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House under SOCPA section 128 - redactions of faceless bureaucrats' names and contact details

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We have finally received a disclosure from the House of Commons authorities, regarding our Freedom of Information Act request about the the formerly public areas within the the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House, which are now within the boundary of a Protected Site under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Section 128 Offence of trespassing on designated site, as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006 section 12.Trespassing etc. on nuclear sites, as specified in the Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 930 The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Sites under Section 128) Order 2007. specifically the map published in Schedule 8:


The paper hardcopy photopies reveal little of interest, except that it seems that the boundary around the main Palace of Westminster was originally going to extend some way into the River Thames, presumably along the as yet non-existent "security" boom or row of marker buoys.

How, exactly any Notices would have been fixed or how this law applies to the tidal River Thames is a mystery which is, at this point rather moot.

The memos and emails confirm that the Home Office was desperate to ensure that there was adequate signage so as to prevent the statutory defence of ignorance of the boundary from being invoked.

There are a couple of FOIA Section 24 National Security exemption redactions, which one could perhaps argue about, since Section 128 of SOCPA has nothing to do with real security, and everything to do with the suppression of political dissent, and of minor non-violent, non-threatening publicity stunts.

What is really infuriating, however, is the policy of censorship or redaction of the Names, Job Titles, Email Addresses , Postal Addresses and DirectTelephone Numbers of some of the officials in these memos and emails, on what seems to be spurious grounds

In each case, the full text of the memos and emails was disclosed (apart from some small Section 24 National Security redactions) but, for the most part, the people who were making the decisions and giving advice remain as faceless, nameless, contactless bureaucrats.

FOIA Section 36 Prejudice to Effective Conduct of Public Affairs exemption

FOIA Section 38 Health and Safety exemption

FOIA Section 40 Personal Data exemption

The name and official job title of a public servant, or their contact details which they themselves publish on their letterheads, should not be considered as "Personal Data" to be redacted from FOIA requests.

This is in stark contrast to the disclosure from the House of Lords, which saw no need to censor the contact details for Peter Mason, the Parliamentary Security Co-Ordinator
or the same Home Officials in charge of this policy and the draughting of the Statutory Instrument secondary legislation.

[name] [address]

Ref: Ann-nnn

Tel: 020 7219 nnnn


16 August 20007

Dear XXX

Freedom of Information request Ann-nnn

Thank you for your email in which you requested details of correspondence and minutes of meetings between the house of Commons and any other public authority, regarding the designation of the Palace of Westminster ans Portcullis House under Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We are sorry that it has taken this length of time to deal with the matter.

Having searched our records, we enclose the information to which you are entitled under the Freedom of Information Act (the 'Act'). We hold the information in hard copy and it is not reasonably practical for the House to provide them in the format that you have requested. The documents have therefore been provided as photocopies of the hard-copies. To the extent that the other information may be held, exemptions apply - these are fully described below. We have indicated where information has been removed and cited the appropriate exemption.

It is difficult to believe that the only copies of emails and and word processed documents sent in the last couple of years only exist as hardcopy printouts.

The House has concluded that some information covered by your request is subject to legal professional privilege and is exempt under section 42 of the Act. This is a non-absolute exemption and is subject to the public interest test. While there is a public interest that the decision making process of a public authority should be open to scrutiny, there is a countervailing public interest that an organisation should be able to seek legal advice without concern that it, or the fact that advice was sought, should be released into the public domain. After careful consideration, the house considers that in this instance the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of legal advice outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

References to the criteria for designation and details of security arrangements for Parliament and any government buildings are exempt from disclosure under section 24 of the Act, since , the exemption is required on order to safeguard national security, and is subject to the public interest test. While considering the public interest in the openness and transparency of public authorities, the security agencies have advised that the disclosure of this information would highlight security vulnerabilities and may expose certain sites to increased risk of attack. On the basis of this advice, the House considers that there is an over-riding public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of security arrangements for institutions which are critical to the effective governance of the united Kingdom. Therefore the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of this information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

Our original request specifically did not for any of this sort of information.

The identities and addresses of some individuals and certain information about the Parliamentary Estate held by the House is covered by the exemption conferred by section 38 of the Act. This is a qualified exemption which relates to health and safety and the public interest test applies. While the decision making process of public authorities should be open to scrutiny, there is a countervailing public interest that the people involved should not be exposed to undue risk. Since the identities of critical security personnel and the precautions in place to mitigate security risks posed to staff may be of interest to any parties wanting to carry out a malicious act against the United Kingdom, disclosure of this information to the public may prejudice the health and safety of those individuals. Therefore the House considers that it is not in the public interest to disclose details of external security staff and security arrangements at the Houses of Parliament and the application of this exemption is upheld.

There is no justification to abuse this section 38 exemption to simply hide the Names, Job Titles , Email Addresses and Direct Telephone Numbers of Home Office officials in charge of policy, which is what has been redacted in this disclosure. Illogically, the physical address and flior number and name of the department for which they work at the Home Office has not been redacted, so the only "risk" appears to be via email or via landline office telephone. Any such "risk" is exactly the same as for the other tens of thousands of users of the * Government Secure Intranet email gateways.

All of this information is freely published in the standard Letterhead which these Home Office Civil Servants use, so they obviously do not feel threatened by its publication and dissemination.

Surely this cannot possibly meet the "more than 50% likely to cause harm" proportionality test which should have been applied in the public interest test applied to this claimed Section 38 exemption ?

Names of non-Parliamentary staff contained in the provided documets relate to living, identifiable information, the disclosure of which is governed by the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. This information is personal to the individuals concerned and its disclosure wpi;d not be consistent with data protection principles. Therefore, these details have been removed as they are exempt from disclosure under section 40 of the Act (personal data). This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

Where this exemption has been applied, appears to be simply to censor the Names of people on email distribution lists or of invited participants to meetings. There are no "personal data" , perhaps just a name and an official job title.

This does not constitute "personal data" as defined in the Information Commissioner's Office Guidance Note number 1:

The Information Commissioner's Office FOIA Guidance Note 1 (.pdf) says:

  • "In thinking about fairness, it is likely to be helpful to ask whether the information relates to the private or public lives of the third party. Information which is about the home or family life of an individual, his or her personal finances, or consists of personal references, is likely to deserve protection. By contrast, information which is about someone acting in an official or work capacity should normally be provided on request unless there is some risk to the individual concerned"
Other information held by the house and relevant to your request may be exempt from disclosure under section 36 of the Act. This is on the grounds that, in my view, the Speaker, who is the qualified person for the purposes of that section, is likely to be of the opinion that disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit the free and frank exchange of views and advice. For the same reason, certain telephone numbers and email addresses have also been removed from the provided documents since disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

This is nonsense. The redactions to which this section 36 has been used as the excuse, are of the postal addresses and email addresses and direct telephone numbers of the Home Office officials and of Peter Mason, the Parliamentary Security Co-Ordinator.

The contents of the emails and letters disclosed has not been redacted under section 36.

How can the contents not "prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs", but the names and contact details which are in the Letterhead section of these documents somehow does so ?

You may, if dissatisfied with the treatment of your request, ask the House of Commons to conduct am internal review of the decision. The internal review will be conducted by someone other than the person who took the initial decision. Request for internal reviewshould be addressed to the Freedom of Information Officer, Department of Fuinance and Administration, 7 Millbank, London, SW1P 3JA or Please ensure that you specify the nature of your complaint and any arguments or points that tou wish to make in support of your position. If the decision to apply section 36 is upheld by the review, then the Speaker will be invited to issue a certificate under section 36(7). The certificate will provide conclusive evidence that the exemption is required for the above stated purpose.

If following the internal review you remain dissatisfied with the House's treatment of your request then you may take your complaint to the Information Commissioner at: Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF

Yours sincerely

Bob Castle
Data Protection and Freedom of Information Officer

N.B. both the postal address of the Office of the Parliamentary Security Co-ordinator and the names , email addresses, and direct telephone numbers of the two Home Office civil servants, as per their standard Letterheads, have been previously disclosed through our FOIA request to the House of Lords on the identical topic.

In several redactions, these details are censored in the disclosure by the House Commons both under Section 36 Prejudicial to the Conduct of Public Affairs and, at the same time also under Section 38 Health and Safety.

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This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

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