Posted on June 17th, 2010 No comments
I suppose there is a certain irony involved in the fact that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) should manage to get in trouble itself over the tardy way it responds to Freedom of Information requests.
Those of you who look at WhatDoTheyKnow will be unsurprised at the organisations downfall as they have been increasingly on the receiving end of on-line complaints from requestors.
Now the Information Commissioner has taken action and issued an Enforcement Notice against the organisation.
Basically the IPCC has to get its ship in order by the end of September or risk being in Contempt of Court. Some people might say that although the IPCC is undoubtedly bad there are other contenders for the crown of Public Authority That Shows the Most Contempt for FoI award. Your suggestions please. Is this an example of the Information Commissioner’s much heralded ‘get tough’ approach?
The Commissioner had a total of nine complaints about the IPCC on his desk when he took action and the IPCC admitted it was dealing with 72 requests – of which 69 were out of time.
One enterprising applicant got so annoyed they asked the IPCC for details of its communication with the Information Commissioner’s office and uncovered an illuminating letter which you can see [IPCC letter]. The main points within it are:
- The IPCC claims FoI requests levels have risen 40% – although other data shows the levels of requests in 2009 (234) at less than half the level they were in 2005 (572),
- They receive an average of 21 FoI requests every month,
- It still has one request dating back to May 15, 2009,
- The IPCC informed the Commissioner that September was the time by which it hopes to have everything up and running smoothly again,
- Three new staff have been recruited – two temps and one permanent – bringing the total in the team to four,
- Staff have a target of dealing with two FoI requests and three subject access requests every week,
- At the moment the team attempts to deal with one request from the backlog and one fresh request although the Commissioner has told them to deal with the backlog separately rather than get them all mixed together.
In the Commissioner’s press release on the issue Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner, said: “I am concerned that the IPCC has denied people access to information by repeatedly failing to respond to requests in line with the Act.
“The FOIA gives individuals important rights to access information held by public authorities and despite the current strain on resources all public authorities must remember their responsibilities under the Act.
“This Enforcement Notice serves as a strong signal to all public authorities that failure to respond is unacceptable. I am pleased that the IPCC reported the difficulties it was facing to us and hope that it will treat this notice with the urgency it requires by putting in place the necessary steps to answer all FOI requests in compliance with the Act.”
Posted on June 10th, 2010 2 comments
When WhatDoTheyKnow first appeared I have to admit that I was a little bit sceptical of the idea. I was wrong.
Now I think it is a brilliant, easy way of asking questions. The idea of having the answers, and the questions, available for the whole world to view on-line is a masterstroke that intersects perfectly with the Freedom of Information Act’s principles of transparency and accountability.
But not everybody is a fan. The fact that the data is automatically splashed up on the web for anybody to look at does seem to make some authorities nervous.
I have deliberately used my account at WhatDoTheyKnow on occasions because it has been my perception that if the public authority knows it’s response to me will be on display to the rest of the world it might just take a little extra care.
But there is a reluctance from some public authorities to engage with requests on WhatDoTheyKnow, which shows a somewhat prehistoric attitude towards the fundamental principle of openness which the Act was supposed to promote.
A few examples:
The House of Commons: Martin Rosenbaum’s excellent Open Secrets blog has recently covered this case in which a request was made for details of an electronic voting system. The House of Commons refused to release the information to the WhatDoTheyKnow e-mail site as they said the publication on the web would be a breach of copyright. The Information Commissioner has ruled against the House of Commons [decision notice] and the response can now be seen [here].
Southampton University: Here the University bizarrely started to password protect its FoI answers that were posted on the site, yet the password was also posted! A few people, me included, sent in FoI requests to get a rationale for this decision. But that only seems to have made things worse. The most recent exchange [link] has the Uni holding an internal review after the person who made the request called them “brusque and snide” in its reply. Most amusingly we then have the University looking up the Oxford English Dictionary definition of those words. Snide = insinuating, sneering and slyly derogatory. But curiously the issue doesn’t seem to have moved on any and I’m still perplexed as to what the University’s position is, although it definitely isn’t slyly derogatory.
Salford University: Many thanks to the person who pointed me into the path of this tower of learning. When you view its pages on the site [link] you will see that it is almost a default position to make somebody vexatious just because they are on the site. One of the most recent requests on WhatDoTheyKnow to the University asked a quite reasonable question asking why this was the case. Yes, you’ve guessed it them made the requester vexatious and refused to answer it. Intrigued by this approve I am left with no option but to make a similar request on papyrus and send it by Pony Express. I’ll let you know how I get on.
NOTE: This week I was very kindly invited to be a guest at the ACPO/ACPOS Freedom of Information Conference in the Midlands. Some of the delegates said some nice things about this blog. Sometimes it can seem a lonely, pointless exercise writing it in glorious isolation. But those kind comments have re-invigorated me, and in the words of Shawshank Redemption I shall “Get Busy Blogging”.
Posted on November 9th, 2009 No comments
The new Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has had to turn down a plush trip to the Last Night of the Proms after finding himself in an embarrassing conflict of interests.
In July this year Graham responded to an invitation from the BBC’s Vice-Chairman Chitra Bharucha to free tickets at the BBC showpiece at the Royal Albert Hall for himself and a guest. He e-mailed the BBC to say he would be “delighted” to accept the “kind invitation”.
It appears that new to the job Graham didn’t realise just how at loggerheads the BBC and the Information Commissioners office were.
Ten days later he e-mailed his contact at the Beeb to say: “I am very sorry to have to cancel for the Last Night. I do apologise and thanks to Chitra for the kind invitation.
“One month into the job, I realise that there is quite a bit of unfinished business between the Information Commissioner and the BBC.
“Under the circumstances, I don’t think I should be accepting invitations of this kind. What a shame!”
The initial invite had been in a private box at the concert with ten others starting at 7.30 with drinks served in the interval.
The exchange of e-mails was released by the Information Commissioner’s Office following a Freedom of Information request to WhatDoTheyKnow.com [link].
You can read the full redacted transcript here. CG and BBC e-mails
It will be interesting to know if the BBC will be inviting Graham, a former BBC employee, next year. Because of course the picture looks a lot rosier for both organisations now.
The decision of the High Court to prop up the BBC derogation means the BBC is happy that it can cling on to its financial secrets.
But the verdict can’t be too disheartening for Graham either – he was not responsible for the previous line on the derogation – but now he can immediately clear-up dozens of troublesome appeals that were adding the Commissioner’s embarrassing backlog.
Break out the bubbly.
During Richard Thomas’ tenure at the Information Commissioner’s Office there was a strict policy of making sure all gifts were pooled and then distributed among staff via a raffle.
I wonder if any of the £18k case workers the Commissioner is advertising for will be hob-nobbing with the great and the good at next year’s Proms?