Recently in FOIA requests in progress Category

We have decided to send a Freedom of Information Act request to Sir Swinton Thomas, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, regarding the "Wilson Doctrine", the apparent immunity of Members of Parliament from having their telephone calls intercepted by the police or intelligence services.

We were promted to do this after reading the frontpage news story in the Independent on Sunday on January 15th 2006 "MI5 will get new powers to bug MPs"

The Prime Ministerial Statement in Hansard of the 15th December 2005 on the Wilson Doctrine which states:

"Wilson Doctrine

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The Government have received advice from the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir. Swinton Thomas, on the possible implications for the Wilson Doctrine of the regulatory framework for the interception of communications, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The Government are considering that advice. I shall inform Parliament of the outcome at the earliest opportunity. "

Since the office of Information of Communications Commissioner is established by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 section 57, and is paid for by the public purse, it must be a Public Body inder the Freedom of Information Act. However, since this office is independnet of the Home Office or any other Central Government Department, some of the exemptions which these Departments use to
hide information from the public may not be applicable.

Our letter:

FOIA request to the Metropolitan Police regarding the Seriouus Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square - applications and authorisations to demonstrate, arrests and charges for July and August 2005, when the powers to demand written prior permission and arbitrary conditions on any , ill defined "demonstration", within a large area around Parliament Square, came into force.

The Metropolitan Police are not a Central Government Department, so some of the Freedom of Information Act Exemptions which the likes of the Home Office or the Treasury routinely invoke do not apply.

Astonishing ! We have a next working day reply to a FOIA request from the Home Office ! Ok it is not a "substantive reply", and they are not going to reply fully within the statutory 20 working days, but it is still a pleasant surprise, given their past record.

As we guessed, they are invoking the Section 22 Future Publication exemption, but at least the Home Office are having to think about the questions raised in our FOIA request about the new guidance, rules and regulations which cover protests of demonstrations in and around Parliament Square.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was passed into law back on April 7th 2005, so why the Home Office have not published an initial set of rules and the extent of the Designated Area is a mystery,

Since they are applying the "public interest test"

"we will not be able to offer a substantive reply within 20 working days of 2 June, the date of your email. We are however treating your request as a matter of urgency and now aim to respond by 22 July."

It really is a mystery as to why the extent of the Designated Area and the new rules have not already been published.

What possible reason for a delay could there be ?

Even if they only apply the Order initially to the Parliament Square pavement itself, in order to harass the controversial lone "peace camp" demonstrator Brian Haw, whose 4 year vigil seems to have been the cause of this legislation in the first place, they could always extend the Designated Area later.

The Home Office have still not complied with our FOIA request for the official meeting diaries, agenda and expenses of senior members of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme team.

This is despite promising to reply "within 15 days" after they were already a week beyond the statutory 20 working days time limit.

Is this a deliberate tactic of neiither complying with the request, nor formally denying it, designed to delay the whole issue until after the forthcoming election ?

Will the attitude change once the Civil Service takes over the running of the country during the General Election period, or will they simply make no Freedom of Information Act decisions at all during this period ?

Is it worth initiating a Home Office Internal Review into these delays, before any refusal or disclosure ?

The Home Office has replied regarding our FOIA request for the "official meeting diaries, agendas of meetings, travel and entertainment expenses involving Katharine Courtney, Stephen Harrison, and the post of Head of Marketing, from September 2001." i.e. the senior people in the Identity Cards Programme Team.

On the one hand, the Home Office is now in breach of the the Freedom of Information Act, as they admit that they have not provided a full reply within the statutory 20 working days.

On the other hand, at least it is not a formal refusal to disclose the information, which has been coming out in dribs and drabs, via Parliamentry Questions, referring to meetings with particular companies or other bodies.

Interestingly there is no talk of a "public interest balancing exercise" in this case.

The failure to reply within 20 working days, is of itself sufficient grounds to initiate an internal review and a possible appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Howeever, we are minded to give the Home Office a few more days before asking for an internal review of the case, provided that this does not end up as a delay which lasts beyond the time when the House of Lords is due to scrutinise the Identity Cards Bill.

N.B. currently there is no timetable slot officially published to indicate exactly when this Identity Cards Bill debate is set to happen in the House of Lords, but presumably this will be before the General Election is called i.e. probably before mid April at the latest.

The Government's response to our request for the publication of the, now out of date, Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews regarding the initial stages of the Home Office's Identity Cards scheme were not satisfactory.

The next step under the new and untested Freedom of Information Act procedures is to request an internal review. It is potentially a promising sign that the OGC "will make every effort to respond to you by Thursday 24th March 2005", i.e. within a month.

This does leave enough time before the presumed date of the General Election, for the next stage of complaint escalation, an appeal to the Information Commissioner to review the case and issue a legally binding Decision Notice.

The Department for Education and Skills has replied to our "anonymous human FOIA proxy") request about the OECD PISA study, made at the suggestion of someone posting a suggestion to this website.

This concerns the OECD PISA study of the educational standards achieved by 15 year olds in 51 countries around the world. Astonishingly, the DfES, through its contractor the Office for national Statistics, somehow managed not to sign up enough schools and pupils in England for the test results to be considered statistically valid enough for international comparision, the whole point of the exercise, and something which has been achieved in previous years.

This is despite increasing financial incentives from £200, to £500 to £1000 in cash to each participating school.

This all sheds an interesting light on the reign of Charles Clarke, who was the Education Secretary at the time, before being appointed Home Secretary a couple of months ago.

As an FOIA request, this one seems to have been successful, with some previously unreleased documents being made available, carefully redacted to remove the personal names of DfES and OECD officials, which is perfectly acceptable, whilst showing the sequence of events.

For those of you interested in comparative educational standards, or wishing to question the Government on school standards, this FOIA reest could prove useful for further probes e.g.

  • Scotland and Northern Ireland did manage to provide a statistically valid sample to the OECD. What about Wales ?

  • If the ONS cannot persuade enough schools to participate, should the contract be given to someone else ?

  • How worthwhile is theis whole OECD PISA statistical exercise anyway ? Does it help to unlock extra European Union funding forr our schools or not ?

    Letter from the DfES, via email, 11th February 2005, i.e. after only 15 working days:

  • We have had a letter, from the Office for National Statistics, dated and postmarked 7th February 2005, delivered today 9th February, i.e. 13 working days since our FOIA request to the Office for National Statistics regarding the Citizen Information Project.

    Given the paucity of public information on the Citizen Information Project, who knew that there are over 5000 documents related to it ?

    Any suggestions as to how we can narrow down the request would be appreciated.

    The letter:

    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:

    The Home Office have also replied to the Freedom for Information Act request for the OGC Gateway Reviews, which we submitted to them at the same time as to the Office of Government Commerce.

    There is policy coordination going on between the departments, as they have replied in almost the same words, quoting the same Exemptions and the estimate of an extra 15 working days whilst they consider the "balance of the public interest" i.e. after the Identity Cards Bill has finished its remaining stages in the House of Commons on Thursday 10th February 2005, before going on to the House of Lords.

    Home Office reply:

    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

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    WhatDoTheyKnow.com

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

    Campaign Buttons

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    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.

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    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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