Police forces spying on our phone calls and emails 250,000 times a year
A survey using Freedom Of Information laws found that 25 police forces made 506,720 requests for people’s “communications data” over the past three years. There were big disparities between force areas, with people in Merseyside are six times more likely to be spied on than those in neighbouring Lancashire.
A breakdown shows that the number of requests for phone or email records – but not the content of calls or emails – increased from 158,677 in 2009/10 to 178,985 in 2011/12. Including estimates for the forces which failed to reply to the FOI survey, the figures suggest that as many as 250,000 requests are being made every year.
Campaigners Big Brother Watch, which carried the survey, said the evidence suggested the police and other agencies do not need more “snooping powers”.A newly drafted Communications Bill is due to be published in the summer, which is likely to propose more powers to spy on people.
Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, urged ministers to order a “comprehensive investigation of how current powers are operating” before bringing in new ones later this year. Read more.
Christopher Hope | The Telegraph | 20th April 2013
Speaker John Bercow blocks FOI disclosure of details of tax treatment of his grace-and-favour residence
Mr Bercow has taken the unusual step of issuing a certificate that effectively exempts material from normal Freedom of Information (FOI) rules.
The move came after a request by the Press Association regarding the tax treatment of a handful of prestigious residences granted to senior figures including the Speaker, Clerk of the House and Serjeant-at-Arms.
The Westminster properties, which are either on the Parliamentary estate or are very close by, are worth many millions of pounds. Living accommodation provided to staff by employers is usually treated as extra income by the taxman.
HM Revenue & Customs considers whether the accommodation is necessary for the job. The taxable benefit can reflect the full rental value, or merely running costs such as utilities – as has happened with the Prime Minister and Downing Street.
Commons documents show that Mr Bercow incurred a taxable benefit of £4,300 for Speaker’s House in 2009/10, with the figure worked out using a “formula based on a percentage of annual taxable salary and period of residence”. Read more.
Christopher Hope | The Telegraph | 19th April 2013
US: EPA release of farmers’ personal information appalling
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they mistakenly released personal information of thousands of farmers to environmental groups in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This breach of confidentiality resulted from the agency’s desire to appease environmentalists, and I am appalled that the EPA would be so careless with the personal information of these hardworking farmers.
In 2011, the EPA proposed a rule that requires Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) owners to provide the EPA with specific information, such as their location and personal contact information. In July of 2012, the EPA withdrew this rule due to privacy concerns; however, the EPA continued to collect this data using information collected on the state level. This information was released as a result of three environmental groups’ FOIA request.
Rather than ensuring that all personal information was redacted before being released to the public, the EPA only redacted information from ten of thirty states. This information included the personal home addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of these farmers. The EPA requested the information back after it had been released; however, that request was basically null and void because it had already been made public. Read more
Bob Gibbs | The Hill | 18th April 2013
US: The Navy to implement a new, electronic Freedom of Information Act tool
The Department of the Navy (DON) will implement a new, electronic Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) tool across the DON on Oct. 1, 2013.
Called FOIAonline, the website will provide the DON with the ability to: accept requests online and track requests in a case file; manage deadlines; calculate fees; research and upload records; publish electronic records; accept appeals online; prepare the annual report; and search and retrieve FOIA requests and responsive documents.
The DON Chief Information Office website reports that some DON organizations are currently using the Naval Sea Systems Command electronic FOIA tool. These organizations will continue to use the NAVSEA tool through the end of September 2013 and switch to the new tool when it is launched on Oct 1. Read more.
Defense Systems | 18th April 2013
Bahamas: Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay Applauds Move Toward Passage of Freedom of Information Act
Calling the right of the public to access information about the business of the government of The Bahamas “an essential and critical tool in a truly democratic society,” the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay today lauded the Christie administration’s announcement that it was close to passing a Freedom of Information Act.
The Coalition’s comments came in response to an article that appeared in a local daily Thursday quoting a senior official stating that the proposed Freedom of Information Act was being reviewed by the Law Reform and Revision department in the office of the Attorney General.
“This is excellent news,” said the coalition of environmentalists which has urged passage of an act that would make the business of government more transparent. “Most countries around the globe have recognised the importance of allowing the public access to information and have, in one form or another, passed a Freedom of Information Act. Read more.
Diane Philips | The Bahamas Weekly | 18th April 2013