Recently in Identity Cards Programme Category
The Office of Government Commerce have, after being prompted by the Office of the Information Commissioner, clarified slightly the information which they held at the time of our FOIA request back in January 2005, regarding the Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme.
Is it worth asking for this newly revealed document: a draft version of the "Technical Risk Assessment of an Entitlement Cards Scheme" dated 17th March 2003. ?
We are expecting a Preliminary Decision Notice, from the Office of the Information Commissioner, but not before the end of October (our original appeal was back in April), as it appears that lawyers are being consulted.
We see no reason why these Gateway Reviews cannot be released to the public, with the names and identifying details of any of the individual civil servants or external consultants censored or redacted. There is , by definition, no commercially sensitive information such as tender bid prices in these reports, as the official procurement phase has not yet begun, even today.
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.
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So at least someone else will get to read these now out of date Gateway Reviews, and there might be some criticisism of the overalll "Sir Humphrey" policy with respect to Gateway Reviews in general.
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.
Following the feeble disclosure from the Office of Government Commerce regarding our FOIA request for the now out of date Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme, we asked for an internal review.
As feared, this has not elicited any more information about the Identity Cards Programme.
All the arguements used about why it is allegedly not in the public interest to disclose these Gateway Reviews, are exactly what the Civil Service marshalled against the whole concept of Freedom of Information. Where is the alleged "culture change" that the years of preparation and training for the Freedom of Information Act should have produced ?
Is "Sir Humphrey Appleby" still in charge ?
Has this FOIA request been deliberately delayed by the politicians and spin doctors, for the full statutory 20 working days, followed by a further 15 working days for "public interest balancing", followed by another month of "internal review", simply to avoid producing any answers which might have informed the debates during the various stages of the controversial Identity Cards Bill ?
How can it be that the high level details of actual project objectivesa and risks, for the Identity Cards Programme, a multi-billion pound project, with massive implications for the whole relationship between the State and the Citizen will not emerge until the project disaster that many people fear, has already wasted our money, and compromised both our civil liberties and national security ?
The Criminal Records Bureau disaster happened because the basic assumptions of how the public would use the service were wrong i.e. the assumption was individual disclosure applications via a web page, in real life there were multiple, bulk disclosure requests via post and by phone.
Why doesn't the Government publish these so called Gateway Reviews, without personally identifying any of the civil servants and consultants, only their conclusions and recommendations ?
Having exhausted the internal appeal process, only now is it possible to submit this FOIA request to the Information Commissioner for a ruling.
Presumably the "Department for Constitutional Affairs Clearing House for Freedom of Information Act enquiries" mentioned in the reply below, is the "secret spin unit" which this article in The Independent refers to ?
Internal Review reply:
One might have hoped that Paul Boateng, now that it has been announced that he is going to be the new High Commissioner (equivalent to Ambassador) to South Africa, would have properly complied with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act and released some details abou the Office for Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of the Identity cards scheme.
However he is not even bothering to answer Parliamentary Questions on the matter, giving an excuse that could have been written by Sir Humphrey Appleby himself:
Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Mark Oaten Mark Oaten (Winchester, LDem)
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what traffic light status was awarded to the identity cards scheme by the Office of Government Commerce at the Gateway Review 1 stage.
Paul Boateng (Brent South, Lab) holding answer 25 February 2005
The ID Cards programme has not yet undergone a Gate 1 Review. It has, however, undergone two OGC Gate 0 Reviews, in June 2003 and January 2004 respectively. The traffic light status awarded by these reviews is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as disclosure would be likely to prejudice both the ability of OGC to examine the effectiveness, efficiency and economy with which other Government Departments exercise their functions and also the formulation and development of Government policy. I believe the public interest in disclosure of such information is outweighed by the public interest in non-disclosure"