Recently in HO Identity Cards Programme meeting diaries, agendas, minutes, expenses etc. Category

The ongoing saga of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme has resulted, at last, in an Internal Review a letter and a printout via snail mail, rather than via email.

Do you think it is worth complaining to the Information Commissioner ? Bear in mind that the Information Commissioner has taken months and is still considering another of our FOIA requests, relating to the non publication of the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Bill.

UPDATE 27th December 2005:

The most interesting stuff is the "dog which did not bark in the night" i.e. the meetings which are missing. On the evidence of this FOIA disclosure, it does not seem as if the policy of

"the need for extensive consultation to ensure that Ministers receive the best advice available and that correct decisions are taken."

has been adhered to.

There do not seem to be any meetings by these senior members of the Identity Cards Programme team specifically with other Central Government Departments, or the
Office of the e-Envoy / e-government unit. There do not seem to be any meetings with the Treasury to discuss the estimated costs of the porject.

Where are the meetings with the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviewers, a process which takes at least a week ?

Also notable by their absence are any meetings with civil liberties or IT secuiry and privacy experts,.

Obviously some or all of these "missing" groups could have been in contact with the Identity Cards Programme Team via other methods apart from official face to face meetings, e.g. email, phone, letter etc.but one would have expected any people or groups whose views were considered important by the Identity Cards programme Team to have merited several meetings.

Email us if you are interested in seeing the full disclosure, an anodyne sample of which is published below:

More delays for the Home Office Internal Review of its decision to withhold information relating to the ffficial meeting diaries, agendas of meetings, travel and entertainment expenses of the senior members of the Hom Office Identity Cards Programme team.

They a "full response" is now promised by 29th July 2005.

Could this delay have anything to do with the fact that the Committee Stage of the Identity Cards Bill, which might have been informed by this Freedom of Information Act request, will be completed by 19th July ?

Every previous chance to reveal information about the Identity Cards Scheme has also managed, somehow, to avoid being published until after the debates in the Parliament.

It is now over a month since we requested an Internal Review of the Home Office's response (well after the statutory 20 days) to our FOIA request for meeting diaries, agendas, travel and entertainment expenses etc. of the senior members of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme Team, and we still have had no response.

We have sent off a request to the Home Office for an Independent Internal Review, regarding the handling of the FOIA request for the meeting diaries etc. of the home Office Identity Cards Programme Team, following the unsatisfactory partial disclosure.

One point worth checking is the address to which paper copies of letters should be sent. Is it to the Information Policy Team in Marsham Street, as the unsatisfactory reply states, or is it to the Home Office Information Access Manager of the Record Management Service, apparently still at the old 50 Queen Anne's Gate offices, as stated on the Home Office FOIA webpage ?

Will our request for a review get "lost" between the two buildings / departments ?

It is necessary to exhaust the internal appeal / review process, before contacting the Information Commissioner.

The Home Office has finally responded, after 50 working days, with a partial disclosure to our Freedom of Information Act Request for:

"official meeting diaries, agendas of meetings, travel and entertainment expenses involving Katherine Courtney, Stephen Harrison, and the post of Head of Marketing, from 11 September 2001"

They are claiming an exemption under Section 35(1)(a) of the Act, "the formulation and development of government policy"

Note that they still do not actually name the "Head of Marketing" for the Identity Cards Programme, which was advertised in October 2004.

We welcome suggestions about what to do next.

Should we re-submit a more limited request, should we request and internal review and then appeal to the Information Commissioner ?

The Home Office response:

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 ?

All this FOIA stuff is very new, so here is our first attempt at getting the Information Commissioner to review an FOIA request, in this case the saga of the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme.

You can only complain to the Information Commissioner once the public authoritiy's internal review process has been exhausted.

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.

Below is our reply to the request for clarification about our Freeom of Information Act request for the official meeting diaries, agendas of meetings, travel and entertainment expenses of the senior members of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme Team.

"Please state over what time period you are seeking this information"

September 11th 2001 onwards should suffice.

Home Secretary David Blunkett started mentioning ID Cards on September 14th 2001, in response to the September 11th attacks in the USA. He announced an "Entitlement Card" consultation in February 2002, which was published in July 2002. Presumably this was all handled by the Identity Cards Policy Unit headed by Stephen Harrison

The Identity Cards Programme, headed by Katherine Courtney does not seem to have come together until about June 2003, although it is "very much integrated" with the Policy Unit.

It is unclear from the letter of reply if the new position of "Head of Marketing" for ID Cards advertised in October 2004 has yet been filled.

Our reply:

We have had a snail mail letter response from the Home Office Identity Cards Programme Team, asking for clarification of our FOIA request: "Please can you state over what time period you are seeking this information".

A good question, but at least this implies a willingness to provide some or all of the information requested, rather than a blanket refusal.

Would it be reasonable to ask for the "official meeting diaries, agendas of meetings, travel and entertainment expenses" from the "Entitlement Card consultation" phase back in 2002 ? The Freedom of Information Act 2000 does allow for past records to be published as well as current ones.

So far as we can remember, Stephen Harrison was involved back in 2002, but Katherine Courtney was not appointed until 2003 and the post of Head of Marketing was not advertised until October 2004, so perhaps this functionary has not yet taken up his or her post yet.

Any suggestions from those of you who are interested or have knowledge of the occurance of meetings which could illuminate the debate on the Government's controversial plans for ID Card and compulsory centralised biometric population register schemes, would be welcome.

The Home Office was one of the two Whitehall Departments which did not or could not, give out figures on how many FOIA requests they have received, out of the 900 requests in the first week reported in the Financial Times. Although this request was not sent in during the first week of January, we will indulge in our usual Home Office kremlinology, to speculate as to whether or not the reference number of this correspondence gives any clues as to how many FOIA requests the Home Office might be getting.

"Reference: 050126IDCFOI/MI/001/5"

There is the reference to "IDC" (ID Cards ?) and "FOI" (presumably Freedom of Information ?). Does "001/5" mean January 2005 or the first such request in the year 2005 or something else ?

The letter from the Home Office, is dated 26th January, postmarked 27th January, and was received on the 29th January 2005 i.e. after only 2 working days, plus postal mail delays - the quickest response to one of our FOIA requasts so far:

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

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