February 2008 Archives

The Office of Government Commerce have emailed to say that the High Court date for their appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal ordering the full publication of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme early Gateway Review reports, has now been brought forward by a day, and is set to start a 3 day hearing this coming for Monday 3rd March 2008 at 10:00am 10:30am , at the Royal Courts of Justice, in the Strand, (Court number still to be decided).

UPDATE: from the Daily Cause List:





Monday 3 March, 2008

At half past 10


CO/4438/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner S Office

CO/5491/2007 Office Of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner


{via Martin Rosenbaum's BBC Open Secrets blog)

It looks as if the foi.mysociety.org project to provide a website for submitting, partially tracking and publishing Freedom of Information Act requests and responses is working.

The website look and feel, and perhaps even the name will change, but the system is operational, and the source code for the system is available.

At present, you do not get a chance to preview your FOIA request before sending it off. You need to register a name (although you can use a pseudonym) and an email address.

The system sends you an email a with a web page URL to confirm that you want to send off your request, but, again, there is no opportunity to review a copy of what you are about to send off.

There are over 100,000 public bodies which are supposed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, so the current list needs to be expanded a lot.

There is an initial Google spreadsheet of most of the Local Authority FOIA request email addresses.

Hopefully this prototype system will soon be enhanced into a tool as useful as the other mysociety.org websites like TheyWorkForYou.com or WriteToThem.com etc.

Another small milestone in the bureaucratic Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process - we have an acknowledgement from the Home Office that they will be conducting an Internal Review of their decision to refuse the FOIA request, and into the delays in responding to it. - see the previous blog entry.

Until such an Internal Review is completed, you cannot make a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office regarding your FOIA request.

Note that even if the Home Office relents, and decides to disclose the information on the geographical extent and the times and dates of Terrorism Act 2000 Section 44 to 46 Authorisation Notifications, which authorise the controversial "stop and search" without "reasonable suspicion" temporary legal powers.

N.B. We did not request any National Security sensitive background intelligence briefing material, which is what the Home Office claimed would be revealed. That would be far in excess of what is actually required in the actual Authorisations which Chief Police Officers have to Notify to the Home Secretary, under Section 46 Duration of Authorisations

We will reply as soon as possible and certainly aim to send you a full response within 40 working days of our receiving your request. You should receive this response by 10 April.

The observant readers of this blog will notice that this information will very likely not be public until after the forthcoming debates in Parliament on the latest Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008

The emailed letter (Microsoft Word document attachment):

Some of yous seem to be eagerly checking the status of our FOIA request to the Home Office about Terrorism Act 2000 Section 44 Authorisation Notifications for "no reasonable cause" stops and searches of people and vehicles - our web logs show regular interest from the Metropolitan Police Service and from the catch all Government Secure Intranet.

A Letter from the Home Office, arrived today 11th February 2008, in response tour request which they say they received on the 19th of November 2007. This was a paper snail mail copy of an email sent on 14th November, and which was acknowledged as having been received via their letter of 17th December 2007 i.e. the Home Office's first substantive response has arrived after 59 working days.

Even allowing for these discrepancies, the Home Office have, yet again, not complied with the 20 working days laid down by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 law.

It appears that the Home Office have conducted a a "public interest test", but without mentioning that they were planning to do so, in any substantive response within the 20 working days. The Information Commissioner usually grants a Public Body another 6 weeks leeway if they choose to go down this route of non-disclosure and delay, but the Home Office have, yet again, exceeded that time period as well.

A request for an Internal Review (without which you cannot appeal to the Information Commissioner) is in the post.

The Home Office is trying to argue that the Section 44 powers are a deterrent but that even the geographical extent of the Authorisations should be secret.

How effective can a secret deterrent be ?

These exceptional powers for Section 44 stop and search were specifically time and location limited by Parliament, and are not general , any time, any place, Police powers, but that is what the Home Office appears to be treating them as.

Are are they acting in excess of their legal powers - is this ultra vires ?

We argue that transparency would create a far more effective counter terrorism measure, by alerting the public to be extra vigilant in a particular place, at a particular time.

Better use of Police resources and less hassle for the law abiding public could be achieved, by publishing details of Section 44 Authorisations, perhaps on a map on the Home Office website. Law abiding members of the public could then avoid locations or times, where and when a temporary Section 44 Authorisation is in force, especially if they are carrying or transporting legal, but potentially suspicious items like shotguns, paintball guns, or ammonium nitrate based fertiliser etc.

Here is the re-typed text of the Letter:

About this blog

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.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.


WhatDoTheyKnow.com - FOIA request submission and publication website from MySociety.org

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Amnesty International 's irrepressible.info campaign

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests

foi.mysociety.org - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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