Recently in Home Office Category

Another month of prevarication and delay - what is so difficult about this ?

Home Office
Office for Security and Counter Terrorism
2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
E-mail: Website:



FOI Reference: [nnnnn]

1 September 2010

Dear [name]

I am writing in relation to your information request dated 11 June 2010 and further to
my letter of 4 August 2010.

In keeping with the decision of the ICO (ref: FS50198733) we need to consider fully the use of the exemption in section 24 (1) of the Act, which relates to information supplied by or relating to national security.

No you do not ! Such information was not requested.

See the FOIA Section 24: National Security

It is inconceivable that any warnings or intelligence about terrorist threats passed on to Chief Constables would be exactly duplicated in the geographical extent of the area which a section 44 Authorisation would cover - it is almost certain that the area which the Police would ask for an Authorisation for, would be larger than the actual target e.g. several streets around a political party conference hotel, an area of several kilometres around an airport terminal building or runway etc.

I have noted the point you have made about section 31 in your email of 6 July. As you are aware, however, the ICO did not consider use of the exemption at section 31(1) (a), (b) and (c).

See the FOIA Section 31: Law Enforcement exemption

If this section 44 extraordinary, temporary power for "stop and search" without reasonable suspicion is meant to act a s a deterrent, the time, date and geographical location of when and where it is in force must not be kept secret !

Publishing such information would have no effect whatsoever on operational security or investigations, since the numbers and types of Police deployed to unspecified roadblocks and checkpoints is not part of such Authorisations nor was it even asked for in this FOIA request.

We will still need to address the use of this exemption when responding to your request. To take account of the points raised in your most recent email we need more time and will need a further extension. We now aim to let you have a full response by 30 September 2010.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the further delay in replying to your request and assure that we will respond as quickly as possible.

Should you have any queries about the handling of your information request then please do not hesitate to contact us at the above address quoting reference [nnnnn].

Yours sincerely

[name of civil servant]

This is now the second extension of the Public Interest Test which the Home Office is taking.

The 30th of September 2010 would be 77 working days after the initial FOIA request.

This is now contrary to the Information Commissioner's Office guidelines which say that such Public Interest Test should take no more than 40 days in total, even in the most complicated cases

See Time limits on considering the public interest (GPG4) (..pdf)


our view is that public authorities should aim to respond fully to all requests within 20 working days. In cases where the public interest considerations are exceptionally complex it may be reasonable to take longer but, in our view, in no case should the total time exceed 40 working days.

Where any additional time beyond the initial 20 working days is required to consider the public interest, the public authority must still serve a "refusal notice" under section 17 of FOIA within 20 working days of a request even in those cases where it is relying on a qualified exemption and has not yet completed the public interest test.


By taking so long to consider the same Public Interest Tests which they have already done before, the Home Office seems to be trying to delay a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office, who will not accept a complaint until the departmental Internal Review procedures have been exhausted.

We are pleasantly surprised that we have actually received a "substantive reply" from the Home Office, to a Freedom of Information Act request, in only 11 working days - they usually manage to exceed the statutory 20 working day limit.

As seem to be usual with the "not fit for purpose" Home Office IT systems, they managed to mangle the email attachment of the Microsoft Word document which they attached, but we eventually uu-decoded it successfully.


To: [email address]
Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2008 12:01:46 +0100

Reference : T13353/8

Thank you for your e-mail enquiry of 17/06/2008 5:19:27 PM

A reply is attached.

This email and any files transmitted with it are private and intended
solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed.
If you have received this email in error please return it to the address
it came from telling them it is not for you and then delete it from your system.

This email message has been swept for computer viruses.


Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
Switchboard 020 7035 4848 Fax: 020 7035 4745 Textphone: 020 7035 4742
E-mail: Website:

[email address]

Reference: T13353/8

2 July 2008

Dear Sir

Thank you for your e-mail of 17/06/2008 5:19:27 PM about the names and locations of "Prohibited Places" declared "by Order of a Secretary of State" under the Official Secrets Act 1911.

The Home Office does not hold the information that you have requested.

However, we have shared your email with the Ministry of Justice. It is possible that the Ministry of Justice may hold some information and that they may write to you in due course.

If you are dissatisfied with this response you may request an independent internal review of our handling of your request by submitting your complaint within two months to the below address:

Information Rights Team
Information and Record Management Service
Home Office
4th Floor, Seacole

During the independent review the department's handling of your information request will be reassessed by staff who were not involved in providing you with this response. Should you remain dissatisfied after this internal review, you will have a right of complaint to the Information Commissioner as established by section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act.

Yours sincerely

On behalf of Will Stuart

If there is no record of any Secretary of State signing an Order to declare anywhere specifically as a "Prohibited Place" under the Official Secrets Act 1911, then that could be quite important in the current War on Tourism and against Photographers' Rights, currently being waged by untrained private security guards, Police Community Support Officers and even by Police Constables.

There are classes of "Prohibited Places" laid down by Acts of Parliament, notably any Licensed Nuclear Site or telephone exchanges (and internet data infrastructure facilities) , or any Civil Aviation Authority airport (e.g. Heathrow) (although the status of photraphy e.g. by plane spotters from outside the perimeter fencing is not clear)

Military bases are usually Prohibited Places by virtue of being owned by the Crown,

However this is no longer automatically the case, for Government buildings, including some Ministry of Defence ones, and most of HM Treasury's HM Revenue and Customs and the Home Office's Identity and Passport Service ID Card / Passport interrogation centres, as some of these are now owned by private companies (some even hiding the legal ownership of these assets in overseas tax havens), and the land and buildings are only leased back to the Government, under various Private Finance Initiative schemes.

We will try sending the same FOIA request to the Ministry of Justice.

Read our original FOIA request, made on behalf of some very worried photographers (ourselves included):

The House of Lords has disclosed, as per our FOIA request, a couple of Home Office documents which give a glimpse about the chronology of the meetings and decisions which led to the Designation of the Place of Westminster and Portcullis House (and Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, MI5, MI6, GCHQ, MOD etc. buildings) under the Serious organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

The emphasis on displaying adequate warning signs around the perimeters of Designated Sites, some of which which are now called Protected Sites (after the amendment brought in by Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2006) is interesting - the Home Office civil servants fear that the legislation will "be brought into disrepute by a failed prosecution", based on the statutory defence under "section 128(4) if a person can prove that he did not know and had no reasonable cause to suspect the site in relation to which the offence is alleged to have been committed was a designated site".

This is currently very topical, since the first people, Obadiah Marius and Victoria Smith have now been arrested and charged under this Section 128, for apparently wandering into Downing Street via the unmarked 70 Whitehall entrance to the Cabinet Office.

Warning signs suitable for the perimeter fence of a nuclear power station on an isolated site, are not adequate for public buildings or otherwise unmarked official office buildings in the centre of London, an area with with millions of foreign tourists who may not read English well or at all. There are also many British people who cannot read or see such signs either.

The House of Lords disclosure consists of 4 photocopied items:

    Letter from the House of Lords Freedom of Information Officer.

    The FOIA disclosure was made via post which arrived on Tuesday 12th June 2007, exactly 20 working days (allowing for the May Public Holiday).

  1. March 2007 Letter from a senior Home Office civil servant to the Parliamentary Security Co-Ordinator

    "I know the policy is not a welcome one but it is one to which the Government has committed us and it will be difficult for us all if it is called into disrepute"

  2. March 2007 Email to Parliamentary Estates Division from the Policy Team Leader at the Home Office Central Unit, which concisely lays out the chronology of the meetings and decisions and the importance of adequate signage.

  3. July 2006 Appendix giving general policy advice about signs and section 128 - presumably this was sent to all the other Designated sites as well.

  4. The House of Lords wording used on their temporary / freestanding signs by their entrances to the House of Lords e.g. the Monarch's entrance.

We have censored some names, addresses, individual email addresses and direct telephone extensions in the transcriptions below:

Apart from the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Information Commissioner also regulates the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which are a result of European Union law i.e. Article 7 (2) of the European Directive (2003/4/EC)

There seems to be less scope for a Government Department to wriggle out of providing EIR request information, compared with an FOIA request on the same topic. All the usual "Sir Humphrey" excuses seem to have a public interest test, so there are no absolute exemptions.

We shall see if Gordon Brown's vague promises of a more open and transparent Government mean anything to the supposedly re-organised Home Office, or whether they will obstruct our EIR request for basic information about the Tracer Gas Trials which are meant to have started today in the Marylebone / Westminster areas of London, as part of some Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear defence experiments being conducted, not on a test range, but in a real urban city environment.

This basic information, such as exactly what the unnamed , allegedly harmless Tracer Gases (plural) are, what quantities are to be released into the environment, and the Environmental Impact Assessment, etc. should, according to the Environmental Information Regulations have been proactively published already.

It looks as if Spy Blog has won another round in the long running attempt to get some of the background information on the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme, which should have been made public before the Identity Cards Act 2006 was debated in Parliament.

Office of Government Commerce v Information Commissioner (2 May 2007) (.pdf 104 kb) {UPDATED link to .pdf file)

Information Tribunal

Appeal Numbers:
EA/2006/0068 and 0080
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Decision Promulgated
02 May 2007

Heard at Procession House, London
On 12, 13, 14 and 16 March 2007


John Angel

David Wilkinson and Peter Dixon




For the Appellant: Mr Robin Tam QC
For the Respondent: Mr Timothy Pitt-Payne


The Tribunal upholds the decision notices dated 31st July 2006 and 5th October 2006, except that we find that section 33 as well as section 35 FOIA is engaged, and dismisses the appeals.


90. The Tribunal has considered all the circumstances of this case and finds that the public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure. In other words we uphold the Commissioner’s Decision Notices in this case.



92. The Tribunal orders that the disputed information is disclosed to the complainants. However before requiring this order to be carried out we are prepared to give the parties 14 days from the date of this decision to make written submissions to us as to whether the names of the individuals listed as Reviewers and Interviewees in the disputed information should be redacted. Once we have determined this matter we will then require the OGC to disclose the information in whatever format we determine within 14 days of that determination.

John Angel

Date 02 May 2007

The Office of the Information Commissioner has emailed us, after we reminded them about our outstanding complaint (which has been with them for 6 months) regarding the Office for Government Commerce's decsion not to release their Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme:

"As you will appreciate this is a particularly sensitive issue and will require very careful and considered attention before we are able to make a decision on this case."

The timeline so far:

We have had a reply from the Home Office to our Freedom of Information Act request about the new procedures for restricting demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliamnent Square, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Since we asked 16 specific questions, we have repeated these alongside the answers in the email letter below.

Bear in mind that this FOIA request was submitted before the signing of the Statutory Instrument on the 8th June outlining the Designated Area, and before the Map was published last week:

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.

We put in a Freedom of Information Act Request to both the Office for Government Commerce and the Home Office for the two pre-Stage Zero and the actual Stage Zero Gateway Reviews of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme, obviously not knowing if either of them would disclose anything.

Up till now, they have both revealed the same anodyne fragments of information which was already in the public domain.

We requested an Internal Review of the disclosures to both the OGC and the Home Office. The OGC review is now subject to an appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The Home Office Internal Review has taken longer, and, again they have refused to disclose the full Gateway Reviews, even with, in the public interest of transparency, any personal details which would identify civil servants or consultants removed.

The Home Office Internal Review did decide that another small section entitled "Purpose and Conduct of the Review" could be released.

This again , only confirms in our minds that the full Gateway Reviews should be fully published, as these Reviews are out of date now, and even if they gave the thumbs down to the ID Cards Programme , the Government could legitimately claim, that the Programme has been modified and is now on track.

It is important, with such a multi-billion pound project which will fundamentally change the relationship between the individual Citizen and the State, that all the external project risks have been identified right at the start. The failure to do this, lies at the heart of some of the Home Office IT project disasters, like the Criminal Records Bureau, where the initial project assumption that most of the users of the systems would do so via individual requests via an online web page proved to be dramatically wrong - most iserd sent letters for multiple employee checks at a time, and made far more use of the telephone call centres than had originally been planned.

Why can't the expert public read the Gateway Reviews and , consructively point out anything that the Home office has forgotten to include or which they have assessed at the wrong priority ?

The Home Office Internal Review letter (not via email):

Our appeal to the Information Commissioner regarding the Office for Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Home Office Identity Cards Programme is slowly progressing.

Complaints Resolution Officer:

"In order to properly investigate this matter and reach a well informed decision I have requested they provide me with a copy of the withheld information. I have also raised a number of issues with them regarding their application of the exemptions and the public interest test."

So at least someone else will get to read these now out of date Gateway Reviews, and there might be some criticisism of the overalll "Sir Humphrey" policy with respect to Gateway Reviews in general.

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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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.

Amnesty International 's 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 - 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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