British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan are part of a campaign that attempted to “impose an ideology foreign to the Afghan people” and was “unwinnable in military terms”, according to a damning report by the Ministry of Defence.
The internal study says that Nato forces have been unable to “establish control over the insurgents’ safe havens” or “protect the rural population”, and warns the “conditions do not exist” to guarantee the survival of the Afghan government after combat troops withdraw next year.
The report, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, says that when troops leave, Afghanistan “will be left with a severely damaged and very weak economic base”, which means that the West will have to continue to fund “large-scale support programmes” for many years to come. Read more.
Richard Cookson | The Independent | 14th March 2013
The boss of a company set to build two nuclear reactors in Somerset has been demanding cuts to renewable energy subsidies and to help for people in fuel poverty while quietly lobbying the European Commission for financial help for new nuclear power stations.
Areva, which is part owned by the French state, has signed a contract to build nuclear reactors for EDF, another French company, at Hinkley Point. If it goes ahead, it will be the first new nuclear power plant in Britain for a generation. Areva already has hundreds of engineers working on the project.
Until now, it was widely assumed that EDF was leading the call for subsidies for new nuclear. But a new document reveals that last November, Areva’s chief executive officer, Luc Oursel, lobbied the European Environment Commissioner, Connie Hedagaard, for financial help for the construction of new nuclear power stations. He asked the commission and European Central Bank to give “credit guarantees … to be used as a catalyst to ease the financing of low-carbon technologies”, such as nuclear. His letter was obtained by the NuclearSpin website under European Freedom of Information laws. Read more.
Andy Rowell and Richard Cookson| The Independent | 17th March 2013
The late activist and coder Aaron Swartz will be posthumously honored Friday, when his family will receive the Freedom of Information award in a ceremony at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C.
Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who won last year, will present the award, which is officially named the James Madison Award and administered by the American Library Association. Lofgren has been one of Swartz’s most vocal supporters in D.C., criticizing the prosecution that accused him of computer crimes and proposing a bill named “Aaron’s Law” to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was levied against him. Read more.
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai | Mashable | 15th March 2013
Sir Cyril Smith tried to bully police after they launched an investigation into claims he molested young boys, according to files. The late politician went to a police station in 1970 and demanded to know why detectives were investigating the claims.
Officers later submitted a file to prosecutors with a covering letter that said: ‘He appears guilty of indecent assault.’ During their meeting Smith tried to find out from officers who his accusers were and admitted approaching two of the teenagers.
An officer then warned him about interfering with witnesses and accused the politician of ‘fishing’ for information, according to the records. Last night an MP claimed the documents – released in a Freedom of Information request this week – prove that 30st Smith was trying to meddle with the police investigation. Read more.
Jaya Narain | Daily Mail | 15th March 2013
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday expressed frustration with the Obama administration’s inability to comply with a 2007 open government law that Congress enacted to speed up the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests.
Advocates say that if the administration wants to get serious about improving its record on access to information, it should apply the tech savvy that has become a hallmark of the Obama brand.
Both Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and its top Republican Chuck Grassley during a Wednesday morning hearing on the OPEN Government Act cited analyses from open government groups that showed that executive branch agencies are either simply not complying with the law, or not keeping up. Both senators cited a December 2012 study from the National Security Archive, a research institute and archive at George Washington University, that found that 56 federal agencies haven’t fully complied with the 2007 OPEN Government Act. Read more.
Sarah Lai Stirland | Tech President | 13th March 2013
A cruel new wave of council cuts is axing vital grants to people who care for their disabled relatives. Respite payments, which let full-time carers take an occasional break, are a lifeline for thousands of people who look after vulnerable loved ones.
Some use the money to pay for home visits from professional carers or to take their family members to respite centres near their homes. Details of the cuts have emerged in a disturbing new report by the disability charity Mencap. It submitted Freedom of Information requests to 152 councils in England and Wales which reveal that half have cut respite support spending in the past year. Read more.
Nick Owens | The Mirror | 9th March 2013
The Prime Minister has said he is “not at all sure” about extending the Freedom of Information Act to private providers who are given billions of pounds of public money for services.
He was challenged by Labour MP Margaret Hodge at a House of Commons Liaison committee meeting on March 12. He was broadly challenged on two topics, ‘Protecting the public’ which focussed on the Government’s accountability and developments on Britain’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Keeping on message with his government’s line Cameron said he prefers transparency from public authorities and private providers operating under public contracts, rather than having to extend the Freedom of Information Act.
Hodge told the Conservative party leader that her committee needed to be easily able to follow the “taxpayers’ pound” when it is being used by private providers increasingly providing public services including G4S, Serco, Capita and A4e. Read more.
Matt Burgess | FoI Directory | 18th March 2013
Pictometry International Corp., a leader in geo-referenced aerial image capture and visual-centric data analytics, recently prevailed in a precedent-setting unanimous decision issued by the Connecticut Supreme Court addressing the interaction of federal copyright protection, trade secrets, and the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. See Pictometry International Corporation v. Freedom of Information Commission, 307 Conn. 648, ___ A2d ___, 2012 Conn. LEXIS 5 (2013). The case has ramifications for all copyright holders licensing intellectual property to government agencies.
This case is the first in the nation to examine the interplay between a citizen’s right to copy or obtain a copy of public records and the limitations placed upon such rights by federal copyright law. Issues of first impression include: (1) whether Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is preempted by the Copyright Act to the extent that FOIA permits the copying and distribution of copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright owner, and (2) even if preemption applies, whether the “fair use” doctrine may be used to override the copyright owner’s rights under the Copyright act and to permit the copying and distribution of copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright owner.
As a result of this case, copyright holders (at least those in Connecticut) may now license their intellectual property to governmental agencies secure in the knowledge that their copyrighted materials are exempt from the public’s right to copy or obtain copies of such materials under the state’s FOIA. The case also makes clear that neither the agency empowered to oversee the implementation of the state’s FOIA nor a state court may consider whether the “fair use” doctrine can be used to override the protections afforded under the Copyright Act. Lastly, the Connecticut decision makes clear that a state agency is not required to bear extraordinary costs in providing information, but rather may pass its costs, including any license fees owing to the copyright owner, to the party requesting the information. Read more.
Dunlap Codding | Lexology | 4th March 2013
Collaborative investigation site Help Me Investigate has compiled data which shows how council spending on the Olympic torch relay breaks down.
Based on FOI requests by Juliet Ferguson and Carol Miers to 100 local councils and police authorities, the responses contain some interesting budget decisions. These include:
• One authority used their torch relay budget to appoint a new member of staff for 18 months
• Two authorities – Aberdeenshire and Lewisham – spent £7,398 of their torch relay budgets on new CCTV cameras
• The biggest spenders were Dover District Council and Bournemouth: both spent over £220,000. But Somerset paid nothing after organisers LOCOG agreed to pay all their costs, previously estimated in the hundreds of thousands
Paul Bradshaw | The Guardian | 6th March 2013
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is briefing smaller app developers on data protection obligations as it and other data protection authorities draft an official “opinion” on how developers should treat consumers’ data.
The ICO’s efforts will concentrate on smaller app development workshops, or even individuals, making sure their products comply with the Data Protection Act and secure full consent of users over how their personal information will be accessed.
This includes potential workshops for start-up firms held at development hubs, such as TechHub in London’s Silicon Roundabout, according to Dr Simon Rice, group manager, technology, at the ICO.
“Getting to people like the ‘bedroom developers’ [smaller developers who often produce apps in their spare time] can be the tricky part,” he says. Read more.
Ronan Shields | Marketing Week | 4th March 2013
Released in response to a freedom of information request, the FBI’s documents cover 11 years of threats against the singer, from 1988 to 1999. But the pages are heavily redacted – in many cases, to the point of incomprehensibility.
Sometimes the redactions are tantalising. In late 1992, an unidentified Chicago lawyer wrote to Houston’s New Jersey-based production company stating that unless the singer paid $100,000 (£66,000), his client planned to “reveal certain details of [Houston's] private life … to several publications”. Later the blackmail amount was boosted even higher, to $250,000 (£165,000). Read more.
Sean Michaels | The Guardian | 5th March 2013
Protesters are to launch a series of actions on Monday demanding that the Department for Transport disclose in full its advice on the building of the controversial Bexhill-Hastings link road.
Work is set to start in earnest on the £86m, 3.5-mile road this spring, after protesters were evicted from a forest camp in Combe Haven, East Sussex, last month. But campaigners believe that the crucial part of a report submitted to transport under-secretary Norman Baker may show that officials recommended the scheme should not go ahead.
Documents were released to campaigners after freedom of information requests, but parts were redacted. In correspondence from March 2012, the unnamed DfT official states that the scheme was “likely to offer either low or medium value for money” and adds that material submitted by “the promoter” of the link road “significantly overstates the benefits of the scheme”. However, the recommendation from officials to the minister has been redacted. Read more.
Gwyn Topham | The Guardian | 3rd March 2013
The multi-millionaire son of a Tory minister who presided over the controversial “right-to -buy” scheme is a buy-to-let landlord owning scores of former council flats.
A Daily Mirror investigation found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher were now owned by private landlords.
In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.
[The Mirror] used the Freedom of Information Act to ask city councils how many of their ex-flats, where they still own the freehold, were being sub-let by the leaseholder.
The 13 that responded told us in 32% of the properties, the leaseholder had an “away address” for correspondence – a clear sign the flat was being rented out. Read more.
Nick Sommerlad | The Mirror | 5th March 2013
A promise to end routine strip-searching of children in custody is being flouted, according to data revealing there were more than 43,000 recorded incidences involving children as young as 12 over a 21-month period – but in only 275 searches were illicit items found.
Contraband was discovered in eight of every 1,000 searches in young offender institutions and secure children’s homes and training centres in the course of one year, and just three in the next year. Tobacco was the most common item found, with no recorded discoveries of drugs or knives.
A leading children’s rights campaigner described the practice as “institutionalised child abuse” after a freedom of information request identified that a total of 43,960 such searches, which routinely involve the children being made to strip naked, were carried out in 21 months. Read more.
Eric Allison | The Guardian | 3rd March 2013
The final draft of the freedom of information law will be put out for discussion in its final draft on 9 March, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky said during a press conference.
“We have come today to bring to the light a law consistent with all state institutions in order for all citizens to acquire their right of knowledge, because that is a right and a duty at the same time,” the minister said.
Mekky added, “We wanted to take a step forward and change some paragraphs in the law in order to complete its features.”
“Egypt has become backwards and under developed,” the minister added. “This law [was written] to address the widespread corruption in this country, and we decided to put an end to it before it spreads.” Read more.
Al-Masry Al-Youm | Eqypt Independent | 2nd February 2013
Town halls across London are using “BBC-style” payment schemes which help staff avoid full income tax, the Standard has learned.
Thousands of local government workers are paid “off-payroll”, allowing councils to sidestep huge sums in national insurance.
The figures come after the BBC was forced to review the freelance contracts of more than 800 staff, including Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce, who were being paid through their own firms.
The Local Government Association suggested the practice was not wide-spread in town halls.
But Freedom of Information requests found that Westminster, Wandsworth, Croydon, Hounslow, Kingston-upon-Thames and other councils were paying staff off-payroll or through personal service companies. Read more.
Pippa Crerar and Anthony Kimber | London Evening Standard | 28th February 2013
Justice ministry under pressure to curb attacks on family court judges
Judges dealing with sensitive issues – including child custody – in the family courts have had hate mail sent to their homes, been physically attacked and been victims of attempted assaults in court buildings, according to information obtained by the Guardian.
In the 12 months up to January this year, 26 incidents were recorded, including one direct threat to life and three physical attacks. The Guardian understands – from another source – that one of these involved a judge who required hospital attention after being knocked to the floor and beaten by a parent over whose case she was presiding.
A number of freedom of information requests submitted by the Guardian revealed that at least five district judges have received threatening correspondence in the past year related to hearings they have presided over. One letter was sent to a judge’s home address, three messages were posted on social media sites and one abusive email was received – the last two incidents suggesting the writers were able to discover and access the judges’ private email addresses and social media pages, such as Facebook. Read more.
Amelia Hill | The Guardian | 27th February 2013
Local authorities expect half of poor residents to refuse to pay council tax
Local authorities have conceded that up to half of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax after being caught in the net by benefit changes next year, and that there is little they can do about it. Under coalition plans to reduce council tax benefits 2 million low-income workers will face an average bill of £247 a year from April – a charge from which they are currently exempt.
But the sums are so small – on average less than £5 a week – that councils are warning it “would in many cases be uneconomic to recover, with the costs of collection, including legal recovery costs, being higher than the bill”. The result is that councils are budgeting for large losses and potentially leaving the door open to widespread non-payment.
A series of freedom of information requests by False Economy, a campaigning group part-funded by trade unions, found that the two dozen councils that responded were resigned to seeing swaths of residents refusing to pay the tax. Read more.
Randeep Ramesh | The Guardian | 15th October 2013
It’s thirsty work being an MP, as their bar bills reveal
Was there really a time when you could walk into your local boozer, order three pints of Youngs for you and your mates, and settle up with the words, “Put it on the slate, Charlie”? Did we dream that you could run up wine and whisky bills on credit? No we didn’t – but it seems there’s only one place in the UK where, today, a request for credit is not met by a smack in the mouth. It’s the House of Commons.
Some enquiring soul used the Freedom of Information Act to ask for a breakdown of MPs with outstanding food and drinks bills and elicited some top items of information. Read more.
John Walsh | The Independent | 27th February 2013
£543m cost of botched Tory NHS reforms: Cuts leave hospitals in critical condition
Ministers have spent £543million in the past two years to rescue hospitals struggling to keep afloat because of the Government’s NHS cuts and reforms.
Figures obtained by the Daily Mirror reveal dozens of hospital trusts in England have had to be bailed out with emergency funding.
Since 2011, 13 trusts have received £299million from the Department of Health because they ran into serious financial difficulties.
Details obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request show the Department of Health spent £254million in 2011-12 and £45million this financial year on additional support for NHS Trusts which had run into financial trouble. Read more.
Jason Beattie | The Mirror | 27th February 2013
Figures obtained under Freedom of Information Act reveal white applicants up to twice as likely to get place, despite same grades
Oxford University has been accused of “institutional bias” against black and minority ethnic students after figures revealed that white applicants to some of the most competitive courses are up to twice as likely to get a place as others, even when they get the same A-level grades.
Figures for applications to the university in 2010 and 2011, obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that 25.7% of white applicants received an offer to attend the university, compared with 17.2% of students from ethnic minorities. Read more.
Kurien Parel and James Ball | The Guardian | 26th February 2013
Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said the bill run up by Greater Manchester force since April 2010 “beggars belief”.
He added: “Taxpayers will be aghast that their cash has been spent like that when there is real pressure on budgets. There are plenty of other ways of checking phone numbers or the time.”
Greater use of the internet actually led to a big decrease in calls to the 118 and 123 numbers last year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. Read more.
The Express | 26th February 2013
A generation of genetically-modified ‘X-Men’ superhumans could be among us by 2045, a Ministry of Defence think tank has said.
Advancements in gene technology could help humans gain mutant powers such as the likes of Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm in the popular comic book and movie series, it has been reported.
The MoD’s Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre warn however that ‘genetic inequality’ could result from advancements in biology being unequally shared across society.
The centre met last summer for a two-day summit, featuring experts from government, industry and universities. The details have been released following a Freedom of Information request by The Sun. Read more.
James Rush | Daily Mail | 25th February 2013
Papers published on Hackney Council’s website have inadvertently revealed the personal data of a number of residents, an investigation by the Hackney Citizen has found.
Among the personal details discovered were the names, addresses, email addresses and mobile phone numbers of more than thirty residents who had been in touch with the council recently about licensing decisions.
The data featured in documents which had been partially redacted, but redaction had not always been done correctly, allowing personal details to be accessed by anyone who viewed the papers. Read more.
Philip Nye | Hackney Citizen | 25th February