The ICO has, quite promptly, responded to our FOIA request about possible Whitehall Civil Service secondees / moles working within the iCO.
See the original request via WhatDoThey Know.com:
1) The list of the "parent departments" of the "seven civil servants" on secondment to the Information Commissioner's Office, as mentioned in the Government's Response to the House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee:
We currently have six secondees working in the Information Commissioners Office. They are seconded to us from the Ministry of Justice, Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.
Thankfully nobody from the Home Office is working there, though, of course, the Ministry of Justice person/people may be ex-Home Office civil servants.
2) What exactly are the specific duties of these seven civil servants within the Information Commissioner's Office ?
The secondees are performing the duties of a Senior FOI Complaints Officer working within our Freedom of Information Operations Department. This department is responsible for investigating complaints received under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
3) How can the Information Commissioner's Office now be seen to remain independent of Whitehall ?
The secondees have been asked to sign an agreement which states that:
Information to which the secondee has access during the course of the secondment to the ICO must be treated as being private and confidential. The information must not be disclosed to parties outside the ICO either during or after the secondment period.
What criminal sanctions are there if such information is disclosed "in good faith" to other Government departments, police and intelligence agencies etc ?None at all.
The Common Law Duty of Confidentiality has been eroded to the point of destruction by this Labour Government;s terrorism, serious crime, financial reporting and child welfare legislation and regulations etc. etc.
Furthermore Freedom of Information Operations Department has a procedures manual which records the complaint process and is a resource for all caseworkers whilst investigating complaints received. Within the 'Investigation Stage' of the manual and when referring to allocation of complaints within teams its states:
'When allocating casework to secondees the Team Leader should ensure that no case is allocated to a secondee which involves their home department'.
All well and good, but the suspicion remains that these Whitehall civil service secondees will be more likely than not to interpret FOIA complaints in favour of Whitehall secrecy, rather than in favour of transparency and the public's right to know.
We will probably have to insist that our complaints to the ICO are not handled by Whitehall secondees, even though this might delay them somewhat - our complaints get delayed by months and years anyway.
At the very least, a complainant should be made aware that the ICO complaints Officer dealing with their FOIA complaint is, in fact, a Whitehall civil servant on secondment, and should be given the opportunity to have the complaint dealt with by regular, independent ICO staff.
It would be much more reassuring, if Information Commissioner's Office staff were seconded into Whitehall Government Departments, perhaps to conduct the Independent Reviews of FOIA requests
Note that this FOIA request was not refused on the grounds that only a pseudonym had been supplied rather than a "real name".
The ICO response: