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ICO’s shady press tactics revealed by FoIA

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) faces embarrassment today as emails released under FoIA show that it tried to “bury” an unpopular decision among others.

The watchdog Privacy International had raised concerns that Internet Eyes, a website that streamed live CCTV of shops in Stratford upon Avon for the public to monitor, was in breach of the Data Protection Act and asked the ICO to investigate.

The Telegraph reports: “The office concluded it was not and only asked Internet Eyes to sign an undertaking of good behaviour.”

Privacy International, unhappy with the decision, then used the FoIA to obtain emails and memos from the ICO in relation to the decision.

Ironically it transpired that the ICO, which promotes good information governance and transparency, sought to bury the news with the release of other decisions and amongst other news.

An enforcement official wrote: “It has occurred to us that the ICO may not wish this release to stand out from the crowd – maybe it world [sic] be better to send the letter today and publish Wednesday or Thursday this week to ‘bury’ it amongst others?”

An ICO press officer added: “Yes, we would ideally not want this to attract much publicity but as Privacy International is the complainant this is no easy task.”

The news was eventually released on the 14th June, the same day that teachers threatened to strike, the coalition was accused of an NHS U-turn and government confirmed that sex offenders could apply to be removed from the register.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International told the Telegraph: “We have criticised the Information Commissioner’s Office for many years over its failure to uphold privacy rights in the UK but this episode has cast a more sinister and disturbing light on the activities of the regulator.”

He added: “There is need for urgent reform to the way the ICO operates. It is clear that the Office is now incapable of fulfilling its statutory responsibilities and that it has become a danger both to openness and to privacy.”

The news comes on International Right to Know Day 2011, a day marked to champion transparency, privacy and government accountability.

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