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Michael Gove under fire for Department of Education’s stonewalling of Parliament in response to MPs’ questions

Michael Gove under fire for Department of Education’s stonewalling of Parliament in response to MPs’ questions

Michael Gove has been formally asked to explain his department’s “exceptionally poor performance” in stonewalling questions from MPs, amid renewed accusations of a lack of accountability at the heart of the Government’s Education team.

The chairman of the House of Commons’ Procedures Committee, Charles Walker, said he was “well aware of the exceptionally poor performance” of Mr Gove’s team in providing answers to parliamentary questions, and remained “unconvinced” that they were making sufficient efforts in tackling the problem, which has led to increasing claims of a diminished accountability.

With the Information Commissioner’s Office not ruling out legal action to force the Department for Education to improve its record in answering Freedom of Information requests, a senior Whitehall official close to David Cameron told The Independent that Mr Gove’s department was in danger of “resembling an information black hole”. Read more

James Cusick | The Independent | 28th April 2013

Blair makes a fortune on lecture tours… and you pay for his stay: Outcry as former PM stays on taxpayer-fueled residences

With millions in the bank, you would think Tony Blair could comfortably pay his hotel bills.  But it has emerged the taxpayer has effectively been subsidising at least some of the former prime minister’s profit-making lecture tours since he left office.

Mr Blair is taking advantage of free accommodation in luxury taxpayer-funded residences on his frequent trips overseas.  On a visit to the Philippines, where he was reportedly paid £200,000 a time for two half-hour lectures, he and his entourage were put up free of charge at the UK ambassador’s official residence.

They were able to enjoy a swimming pool, garden and tennis court at the residence, a Freedom of Information request revealed. Similarly secure accommodation in a private hotel would have personally cost thousands of pounds. Asked about such largesse being offered on a money-making trip, the Foreign Office last night suggested such freebies were routinely available to him. Read more

Neil Sears | The Daily Mail | 29th April 2013

Google reports record spike in government requests to remove content

Governments made a record number of requests for Google to remove political content in the last half of 2012, the search giant said on Thursday.

The number of official requests for content to be removed jumped 26% in the final six months of 2012 compared to the start of the year, according to the latest Google Transparency Report. Google received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content – an increase from 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that the company received during the first half of 2012.

Requests were made to pull videos from YouTube, delete blog posts on Google’s Blogger service and to remove items from Google search, making them harder to find. Read more

Dominic Rushe | The Guardian | 25th April 2013

Male drivers fail to see the point

Over 8000 UK drivers are still driving despite having 12 or more points on their licence. The top fourteen licence point holders with 25 points or more are all men.

The official upper limit for license points according to DVLA is 12, or six for those who have held a licence for three years or less. However, a freedom of information request to the DVLA showed many male drivers with 25-36 points were still driving.

A male driver from Warrington has the highest number of points, 36. Currently, there are 20,439,578 male and 16,804,524 female licence holders in the UK, but it’s men who fall foul of the law more often. Read more

Fenland Citizen | 28th April 2013

Insecticide firms in secret bid to stop ban that could save bees

Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world’s most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission’s proposed ban. Read more

Damian Carrington | The Observer | 28th April 2013

SSPO condemns freedom of information decision on seal killings

The Scottish Information Commissioner has found in favour of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) in its appeal against Scottish Ministers following a freedom of information request to reveal information about seals killed under seal killing licences issued by the Ministers, including to which companies licences had been issued and how many seals were actually killed.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner found that the Ministers, while revealing some information, had wrongly withheld information on seal killings and required it to be disclosed.

While the Commissioner did not accept that the retrospective nature of the information would prevent its use by protestors, who might protest about the shooting having taken place, once details were released, she said she was not satisfied that the Ministers had demonstrated that disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially public safety. Read more

Fish Update | 26th April 2013

More than £100K top of the range mobiles and tablets given to council staff

MORE than £100,000 worth of iPads, iPhones and Blackberrys have been given to council staff – despite huge cuts to services in Coventry. Data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act shows top-of-the-range mobile phone and tablet devices worth £113,000 were handed out for the first time last year.

Coventry City Council insists they were purchased at an initial “subsidised price” but admits to shelling out £15,754 on 95 iPads for senior officers and councillors.

It comes when the city council is losing a THIRD of its government funding. Over the next three years, £60million more cuts are expected as well as at least 800 more job losses. Read more

Martin Bagot | Coventry Telegraph | 27th April 2013

USA: Consultants’ role in NY drilling study questioned

Government watchdog Common Cause and 11 environmental groups raised more questions Thursday about the role of gas industry-associated consultants in the state’s environmental impact study of shale gas drilling and fracking.

A review of Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Common Cause through Freedom of Information Law requests shows two more firms with memberships in the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York were contracted for the state’s review.

The review, still incomplete after five years, is to determine whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground, will be allowed in the state. Read more

Associated Press | 25th April 2013

CANADA: Liberals want ethics investigation of construction group’s lobbying

The Alberta Liberals sent letters to the province’s ethics and elections watchdogs Friday calling for investigations into lobbying by a coalition of construction interests that also made campaign donations to the Progressive Conservatives.

In the letters to Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson and acting Chief Electoral Officer Lorie McKee-Jeske, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said documents released through a Freedom of Information request to the Alberta Federation of Labour raise questions about the connection between political donations and attempts to influence legislation.

The documents, which include a series of emails after the April 2012 election, include a chain of messages from a construction company executive pushing for a meeting with Premier Alison Redford to discuss labour code changes being advocated by the Construction Competitiveness Coalition. Read more

Sarah O’Donnell | Edmonton Journal | 26th April 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: South African activists vow to fight on after MPs pass ‘secrecy bill’

Campaigners in South Africa have vowed “this fight is not over” after MPs passed widely condemned secrecy laws that could threaten whistleblowers and journalists with jail terms of up to 25 years.

The protection of state information bill, dubbed the “secrecy bill” by its opponents, was passed by 189 votes to 74, with one abstension, in a parliament dominated by the African National Congress (ANC). It is now a formality for President Jacob Zuma to sign it into law.

Freedom of speech activists acknowledge that the bill has been greatly improved and amended during five years of fierce national debate. But they warn that it still contains ambiguities and harsh penalties that could have a “chilling effect” on those seeking to expose official corruption. They intend to challenge the legislation in the highest court in the land. Read more

David Smith | The Guardian | 25th April 2013

CHINA: Hollande asked to raise freedom information during official visit to China

Reporters Without Borders urges French President Francois Hollande to raise human rights and freedom of information with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during a two-day official visit to China that began yesterday.

Hollande’s visit is the first by a foreign head of state since Xi was installed as China’s president on 14 March.

“While it is clear from the size of the accompanying delegation of French businessmen that trade will be the leading subject of their talks, it is essential that Hollande should keep his promise – announced by government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – to raise human rights with Xi, and this should include freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. Read more

Reporters Without Borders | 26th April 2013

AUSTRALIA: Hackers target Bureau of Statistics data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that hackers have recently attempted to break through its security systems to get hold of potentially market sensitive information.

While the ABS says none of the attempted attacks were successful, there are growing concerns that intelligence about Australia’s economy is being eyed by either governments or individuals abroad.

News of the hacking attempts comes from a Freedom of Information request by the Australian Financial Review and, according to that, the ABS has been targeted by hackers over the past four years, including at least 11 incidents over seven months in 2012. Read more

Peter Ryan | ABC News | 26th April 2013

USA: US judge says US combat school must disclose names of foreign leaders it trains

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Department of Defence must disclose the names of individuals who studied and taught during the past eight years at a Georgia school that trains foreign military and police officers, a federal judge in California has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland rejected the federal government’s argument that identifying trainees and teachers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation would violate their privacy and potentially compromise their safety, saying such concerns were outweighed by “the strong public interest in access to this information.”

Hamilton’s ruling, issued Monday, came in a lawsuit brought by two San Francisco members of SOA Watch, a group that has protested for more than two decades outside the training school based at Fort Benning and worked to implicate its graduates in human rights abuses in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and other Latin American countries. Read more

Associated Press | 24th April 2013

USA: Lawmaker seeks to limit FOIA release of 911 calls

LANSING — Prompted by a high-profile case of an attack on a suburban Detroit family, a Michigan lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at limiting the release of 911 recordings requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth said he wants to strike a balance between the public’s right to the information and the need for sensitivity, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The bill was prompted by a 2012 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills, Heise said. Tucker Cipriano is accused of beating his father to death with a baseball bat and trying to kill his mother and brother. Read more

Associated Press | 25th April 2013


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