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University staff’s personal emails eligible for FoIA requests

Higher education staff may be forced to disclose personal email communication related to public businesses, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said.

The ICO is the public watchdog responsible for the implementation of the FoIA legislation. Following the controversy surrounding the use of personal emails by Department for Education officials, the Information Commissioner stated access to gmail, hotmail or yahoo accounts should be allowed under the Freedom of Information Act, if the information pertains to public issues.

“Information held on personal, non-work email accounts can still be subject to disclosure under the legislation,” the ICO said in its new guidance. The commissioner also advised any FoIA requesters to ask members of public bodies whether they hold information in a personal email account.

The announcement follows the recent uproar caused when it was revealed Dominic Cummings, the special advisor of the Department for Education secretary, refused to use the department’s official email address.

“I will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who I know who they are. I suggest that you do the same in general but that’s obviously up to you guys – I can explain in person the reason for this,” he said.

Allegedly, Cummings preference was based in the conviction that gmail accounts of government officials are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

Apparently, according to The Independent the practice of using private email accounts is widespread in Whitehall, a fact that gives the ICO’s decisions added gravity.

Alarming Afghan civilian casualties by UK forces over the past six years

More than 30 Afghan civilians have been killed by UK army forces from 2005 to last March, the Guardian, reports. The figure was released – albeit with a nine-month delay- after a FoIA request to the Ministry of Defence.

Fox to justify former flatmate’s involvement to MoD affairs

Liam Fox, the defence secretary will be forced to respond to allegations he wrongfully allowed his former flatmate, best man and personal friend Adam Werritty gain access to his ministry and present himself as an official adviser.

FoIA requests have revealed Werritty, who is not a government employee, visited Fox as MoD’s headquarters 14 times in the past 16 months. This adds up to an accumulating list of questions about Werritty’s involvement in Fox’s political activities and whether he is seeking to profit financially from his links to him. The story was reported by the Daily Mail and  the Guardian.

Scottish civil servants claim thousands of pounds for union work

The Daily Express and the Herald report certain civil servants have received almost £670,000 during the past two years, just for working full-time for unions like PCS, Prospect and the First Division Association, to the expense of the Scottish taxpayer.

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone criticised the massive payoffs saying: “If they are employed by the Scottish Government then that is who they should be working for at a time when we cannot afford any excess spending in the budget.”

PCS Scottish secretary Lynn Henderson rebuked Johnstone’s comment by labelling it a “cheap attack” on their own civil servants. The overbloated salaries of the union members were revealed after a FoIA request.

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