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: