Recently in Department for Work and Pensions Category

Apparently the DWP FOI Focus Centre tried unsuccessfully to email a response to our Q1 and Q2 2006 List of Uses - DWP Longitudinal Study - FOIA request

After another failed attempt today, another DWP official, in the department which deals with FOI internal reviews (which we had requested into the handling of the request) managed to forward the email ok.

Perhaps they have a problem with their X400 email gateway to the Government Secure Intranet gateway to the Internet.

The Department for Work and Pensions website was updated yesterday with almost all of the information that we requested through our FOIA request

The Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study webpages Background Information and Safeguards and List of Uses now include links to other documents which go a very long way towards the level of transparency which was promised over a year ago:

The minutes etc. of the Ethics Committee are also promised to be published on the web site soon.

c.f. below for the reassurances given about the number of Security Incidents which might have compromised the massively valuable combined Department for Work and Pensions and Inland Revenue combined Data Sets

Reply from the Department for Work and Pensions, after only 18 working days:

We have had a request for clarification about our FOIA request to the Department for Work and Pensions, regarding the DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee.

This seems to be a very promising response to our request, after only 13 working days

Our inline reply to the request for clarification.:

Our first request to the Department for Education and Skills. Confidential sources suggest that the DfES may have tried to grab data on all children in the UK and possibly all their parents and guardians from the Department for Work and Pensions, who, it would seem "did the right thing" and refused.

DfES has been granted massive powers und the Primary Legislation of the Children Act 2004 section 12 and 29, thereby being able to sidestep both the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act and specifically to force the breach of Common Law duty of Confidentiality for professional medical, educational, social worker etc. advisors with their clients.

"11) Regulations under subsection (5) may also provide that anything which may be done under regulations under subsection (6)(c) to (e) or (9) may be done notwithstanding any rule of common law which prohibits or restricts the disclosure of information."

Given that the relatively small scale Reducing Youth Offending Generic Solution (RYOGENS) project is seen to be a model for such national databases, we have also probed to see if similar requests for data on "all children" have been sent to the Police, the Probation Service or the National Health Service.

This is also an experiment to see if several similar requests can be bundled up as one, or if they need to be sent in individually.

Our first request to the Department for Education and Skills:

Finding the appropriate address to send an FOIA request in the vast Department for Work and pensions, government within a government is not straightforward. They presume that people will contact their local DWP offices for information in the first place, which is not approrpriate for this particular FOIA request.

A good point is that they have now instituted a Secure Sockets Layer web email contact form, but with a fair amount of hunting around their Publication Scheme pages the IAD Information Centre postal address was found, and the Public Enquiry Office email address were found. The email address allegedly for enquiries about the Longitudinal Study is the one which has managed to ignore our emails over the last year asking when the website would be updated with the information which they promised to publish

"Quarterly publication of the uses
To ensure that DWP are accountable to the public for all work on the data, an internet and paper-based list of uses (existing and new) will be published every 3 months. "

Similarly the details about the Ethics Committee which does not seem to have been set up, for a year now, hence our request.

The update of the Longitudinal Study list of uses web page this week, poses a few more questions, i.e. what is all this "REMOVED" stuff about ?

Read a copy of what was sent as a FOIA request:

Is it just a coincidence that after our suggestion of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department for Work and Pensions, that they actually update their Longitudinal Study webpage ?

Perhaps this long overdue update was actually prompted by the visitors that this blog had from the UK Parliament and the central Government Secure Intranet yesterday.

Interestingly, the updated table of approved project uses for the controversial combined Social Security and Inland Revenue datasets, now includes varuous "REMOVED" entries.

Does this mean that even this summary of Business Cases has been redacted or censored from publication on the public world wide web ? e.g.

Case NumberTeam name
08Neighbourhood Statistical Team
10IAD Operational Research
19Jobseeker Analysis Division
26Disability and Carers Directorate
29IAD Operational Research
32Jobseeker Analysis Division
38Economy and Labour Market Division (ELMD)

N.B. for Business Case 38, there is still an entry of "3" in the column for the "No of users given access"

Can we believe statements like:

"These have been and will be updated in the list below and posted on this page every three months."

which are demonstrably untrue - the old data from January last year was what was available to the public until at least Wednesday 5th January 2005 (we have saved copies)

There is still no information about the composition of the Ethics Committee, if it exists, or of any method to contact the committee, independent of the DWP bureaucracy.

Department for Work and Pension - Inland Revenue Longitudinal Study

We are still concerned that after an inital flurry of "open government" last year, the controversial linking of social security benefits, pensions and tax data, without any individual informed consent i.e. sidestepping the Data Protection Act because of Primary Legislation, has lapsed into secrecy and obscurity

Where is the DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee ?

DWP-IR Longitudinal Study racial profiling

The very first use to which this combined data has been put is to create an electronic map of racial, ethnic and religous minorities, for compliance with the Race Relations Act. However, this is also an ideal tool for any future extremist government
to produce, at the touch of a button a list of addresses and a map of locations, to harass. arrest, deport or even kill such minorities.

So where are the safeguards and oversight of such a powerful system ?

Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study - Safeguards:

"Ethics Committee
An ethics committee will be established to consider proposals which have a significant ethical dimension. The Head of Data Services in DWP will be responsible for day-to-day decision-making on access to the data. The Ethics Committee will monitor the decisions and will advise on those decisions which the Head of Data Services has referred to the Committee. The Committee will consider expert legal advice and will be made up of statistical and research experts as well as representatives of employers and individuals."

A year after this web page went online, and there is still no mention of who exactly is serving on this Ethics Committee, or any information about its reports or any contact details or any mechnaism for members of the public to complain.

Quarterly publication of the uses

To ensure that DWP are accountable to the public for all work on the data, an internet and paper-based list of uses (existing and new) will be published every 3 months."

There has been no update of this alleged "quarterly update" after the first quarter of 2004 - where are the missing three quarterly updates ? Even if no new uses for these controversial combined Social Security and Inland Revenue datasets have been sanctioned since April 2004, then that should be made public.

Proposed Freedom of Information Act Request for information on:

All emails, minutes of meetings and reports pertaining to the Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee.

The missing three quarterly publications of permitted uses of the Longitudinal Study Datasets.

Given the number of admitted breaches of computer security by staff at the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions (hundreds of cases a year dealt with through internal discplinary action, rather than the virtually useless Computer Misuse Act or the Data Protection Act), how many of these incidents involved people or systems with direct or indirect access to the Longitudinal Study datsets, both at the DWP, and at the IR ?

Have the combined Longitudinal Study datasets been made available in whole or in part, in batch processing mode, or in realtime, to any other UK Government Departments or Agencies, or to any Commercial Companies, or to any Foreign Governments ? If so, under whose authority, to whom, when, why ? etc.

How many complaints have there been from members of the public regarding the Longitudinal Study ?

How many members of the public have been supplied with copies of their own Longitudinal Study data ?

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.

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