September 2008 Archives

HM Revenue and Customs have at last, after 6 months, sent their Internal Review of their decision not to reveal any details about the special categories of people who allegedly get extra security for their tax records - a completely unacceptable 2 tier system - why isn't everyone's tax record given this "special category" protection from internal HMRC staff who may be tempted or corrupted to snoop ?.

The Request for an Internal Review - March 2008:

HMRC tax record special categories - request for FOIA Internal Review

The original FOIA request was sent at the end of January 2008:

See HMRC response to FOIA request for general details of the Special Categories of tax returns of Celebrities and VIPs etc.

Unsurprisingly the HMRC Internal Review does not rule in favour of disclosure.

HMRC did answer ("outside the terms of the Act") one of the additional points put to them when requesting the Review, namely how vulnerable people e.g. victims of domestic violence are meant to know that their tax records could be "protected" in a "special category", but they fail to say what the eligibility criteria are, or how one can check if this is actually being done properly.

The Information Commissioner's Office guidelines state that a Freedom of Information Act Internal Reviews, even in the most complicated cases, should not take more than 6 weeks, so the 6 month delay by HMRC is either due to incompetence or political manipulation.

This delaying tactic prevents an FOIA requestor from complaining to the Information Commissioner's Office, until the Internal Review by the Government Department has been completed.

Since the HMRC Internal Review process is now exhausted, we are forced to add to the Queue of FOIA Complaints at the Information Commissioner's Office.

The Ministry of Justice has replied to our reduced Freedom Of Information Act request (the third we have now submitted, counting the initial one to the Home office).

This has implications for defining the very few places in the UK where you might be accused of breaking the law, when taking photographs of buildings or people in public, or at least outside etc.

The vast majority of places in the United Kingdom are not Prohibited Places, even though some of the ones which are not, perhaps should be.

Places which have been declared prohibited under section 3(c) of the Official Secrets Act 1911 are contained in the Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Orders 1994 (SI 1994/968) and 1955 (SI 1955/1497). The 1994 Order is accessible from the Office of Public Sector Information website ( and/or the Statute Law Database ( The 1955 Order is not available online other than through subscription to a legal database but a hard copy may be obtained from the Stationery Office through their online bookshop ( or by calling 0870 600 5522.

No places have been declared prohibited under section 3(d) of the 1911 Act.

The Ministry of Justice does not hold any maps, diagrams or other information showing the physical extent of the prohibition in the places concerned.

The Official Secrets Act 1911 has been modified by subsequent Acts over the years, especially the Official Secrets Act 1989.

Its use of the word "Enemy" has had little direct relevance since World War 2, as the UK Government has not bothered with any old fashioned formal Declarations of War since then - all the shooting and "cold" wars we have been involved with as a nation have been "police actions" or "self defence" or "in pursuit of a United Nations Security Council Resolution" etc.

Things are further complicated by Anti-Terrorism legislation which certainly defines evil people, and organisations, but which has its own criminal penalties for collecting or passing information, including documents in electronic form, to terrorists, even if they are not officially Enemies. regardless of whether they are actually actually Proscribed Terrorist Groups or not.

Astonishingly, the Taliban never has been, and is still currently not a Proscribed Terrorist Group, even though British military forces are fighting them , supposedly to prevent them from terrorising local Afghans, and providing shelter to Al Quaeda etc. Surely they are our |"Enemy" ?

See the legal briefing which argues this point regarding the "Enemy" under the Official Secrets Act 1911, in the current Corporal Daniel James espionage case (a military interpreter accused of passing information to some vague Iranian organisation or Government, in spite of the support of his commanding officer etc.)

See Michael John Smith's blog Operation Billiards - Mitrokhin or Oshchenko ?, who is trying to overturn his own convicting under this Act for passing secrets to the Soviet KGB for details. - Wrong Interpretation of Section 1 of Official Secrets Act

SI 1994/968 The Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Order 1994 replaces the 1993 Order, and rather redundantly, adds Sellafield, Capenhurst, Harwell and Windscale nuclear fuel factories, nuclear fuel re-processing or research sites to the list .

As noted in our original Freedom of Information Act request, all Licensed Nuclear Sites are declared by the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 Schedule 1 Security Provisions Applicable by Order under S.2 to be deemed to be Prohibited Places under section 3 of the Official Secrets Act 1911.

The current public register of Licensed Nuclear Sites can be found on the Health and Safety Executive's website:

Firms subject to the provisions of Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended) (.pdf)

This listing includes the same nuclear fuel and research sites previously declared in the 1994 Statutory Instrument, along with other nuclear research reactors and nuclear power stations.

We have had to resort to reading a paper copy of the Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Orders 1955 (SI 1955/1497) . This Order came into force on 1st Octber 1955, signed by "One of Her Majesty's Principle Secretaries of State", James Stuart, who was the then Secretary of State for Scotland, in the Conservative government under Prime Minister Anthony Eden.

The only Prohibited Place it mentions is the Dounreay fast breeder nuclear reactor research site in the County of Caithness, run by the Atomic Energy Authority.

The most interesting part of the Ministry of Justice's reply is:

No places have been declared prohibited under section 3(d) of the 1911 Act.

This echoes the Parliamentary Written Answer, given by the then Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees, back on 18th July 1977, under Prime Minister Jim Callaghan.

N.B. this volume of Hansard is not properly online yet, but it has been scanned and digitised as part of the Historical Digitisation of Hansard project:

HC Deb 18 July 1977 vol 935 cc369-70W

Official Secrets Act

Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he


will make a statement regarding the operation of Section 3(a) and Section 3(b) of the Official Secrets Act 1911 as regards prohibited places;

[scanning across pages and columns seems to be in error]

(2) if he will provide a list of all places which are, or have been, declared by a Secretary of State to be prohibited places under Section 3(c) of the Official Secrets Act 1911;

(3) if he will provide a list of all places which are, or have been, declared by a Secretary of State to be prohibited places under Section 3(d) of the Official Secrets Act 1911.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The lists of places which have been declared prohibited places under Section 3(c) of the Official Secrets Act 1911 are contained in the Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Orders 1955 (SI 1955/1497) and 1975 (SI 1975/182). No places have been declared prohibited under Section 3(d). Sections 3(a) and 3(b) of the Act define certain


types of installation as prohibited places The decision to prosecute in a particular case is a matter for the police in the first instance and is subject to the consent of the Attorney-General.

HC Deb 18 July 1977 vol 935 cc370-1W

The then backbench Labour MP Mr. Robin F. Cook later became the Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Therefore, unless the 1955 Statutory Instrument mentions them explicitly, none of the Government Buildings which have been involved in Public Finance Initiative or Public Private Finance sell of and lease back schemes, are own by the Crown any more, and they have not been specifically declared by a Secretary of State as being Prohibited Places under the Official Secrets Act 1911.

This probably applies to the Ministry of Defence buildings (Old and New) in Whitehall, HM Treasury, all of the HM Revenue and Customs estate, the Home Office in Marsham Street, all the Immigration and Passport Agency's new Passport Applicant interrogation offices etc.

It also applies to the privatised Prisons and Detention Centres.

Similarly, the privatised Defence Research laboratories are no longer owned by the Crown either e.g. Qinetiq, Porton Down and so they no longer come under the automatic "owned by the Crown, used for military purposes" criteria of section 3(c),

which is for the time being declared by order of a Secretary of State to be a prohibited place for the purposes of this section, on the ground that information with respect thereto, or the destruction or obstruction thereof, or interference therewith, would be useful to an enemy

They might still be Prohibited Places under section 3(b), but the Ministry of Justice says that , aprt from the nuclear sites, there are none.

None of these are Prohibited Places regarding espionage photography.

Apart from the Licensed Nuclear Sites, and Military bases owned by the Crown, the other main categories of site which can be made into Prohibited Places by order are airports owned by the Civil Aviation Authority e.g. Heathrow Such Civil Aviation Authority owned aerodromes are deemed to be owned by the Her Majesty, through the Civil Aviation Act 1982 section 18 Official secrets

That mans that civilian airfields e.g. Heathrow airport, could be declared to be Prohibited Places by Order but, at the moment under the Official Secrets Act 1911 section 3(c), but , currently, according to the Ministry of Justice, none of them are currently so declared.

Buildings or sites used by Communications Providers under the Communications Act 2003 Schedule 17 para.2

Official Secrets Act 1911

2 For the purposes of the Official Secrets Act 1911 (c. 28), any electronic communications station or office belonging to, or occupied by, the provider of a public electronic communications service shall be a prohibited place.

This includes British Telecom landline telephone exchanges and the mobile phone network companies e.g. Vodafone, and internet service providers, and cable tv / internet data companies providing telephony or email services e.g. Virgin Media.

This does not includes Royal Mail Post Offices and private letter or parcel delivery companies like TNT or DHL, since these are public postal communications providers , who can be told to physically intercept postal mail deliveries under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but they are not telecommunications

When the General Post Office ran the telephone system i.e. before it was privatised into British Telecom, , then its exchanges and telegraph offices etc. were Prohibited Places under the Post Office Act 1969 schedule 4 para 21, but
that was repealed by the Postal Services Act 2000 Schedule 9 Repeals and Revocations. The Post Office itself was finally killed off as a legal entity by the Post Office Dissolution Order 2007.

None of these Prohibited Places actually ban photography by the public for innocent, non-espionage purposes, but the burden of proof seems to shift to the photographer having to prove his innocence.

However, the power of arrest by the Police under the Official Secrets Act 1911 was repealed i by the Serious Organised Cr me and Police Act 2005, and prosecution could only ever be by consent of the Attorney General (something which is likely to change generally to consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, if the Constitutional Reform Bill is passed).

There is no excuse whosoever for Police Constables, Police Community Support Officers, military guards or private security guards etc. to claim that any site or building, except for obvious military bases (including our dwindling fleet of 40 naval vessels) and Licensed Nuclear Sites are Prohibited Places under the Official Secrets Act 1911.

Having been chided by the estimable Julian Todd, for not making use of the ver improving FOIA request submission and tracking website, we have decided to try our luck in sending in an FOIA request through that website, rather than directly via email.

See the Spy Blog article The next Home Office data security and privacy disaster ? Sharing all our financial details with private sector "specified anti-fraud organisations"

Will we get an idea of what the alleged data handling security and privacy safeguards are supposed to be, before the new powers to circumvent the Common Law Duty of Confidentiality which used to protect our financial and medical details, which come into force on 1st October ?

The text of our - FOIA request:

When the Information Commissioner's Office get around to considering the complaint regarding last November's Freedom of Information Act request for the locations and durations of the statutory Authorisations made under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, i.e. the supposedly temporary areas where normal Police stop and search powers are exceptionally changed to become stop and search without reasonable suspicion powers ?

The ICO wrote in May that they had at least a 12 week backlog.

They have now written again, in August, having allocated the complaint to the

Team 2 (Education, Police and Justice) queue

However, there is no estimate of when this complaint will be looked at, let alone resolved.

Click on the HO Terrorism Act 2000 s44 Authorisations category archive, for the full saga of delays so far.

Text of the (paper snail mail) 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. - FOIA request submission and publication website from

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

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FOIA Links

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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 - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

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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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