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Posts Tagged ‘Information Commissioner’

Weekly News Round-Up: Open data, Owen Paterson and openness

Information Commissioner: ‘Open data is no substitute for freedom of information’

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has warned that the open data movement in the UK could lead to ‘open data’ becoming a substitute for ‘freedom of information’.

Speaking at the first annual Open Data Institute (ODI) summit in London, Graham said that the danger with open data is that the public only sees what the government chooses to make available – rather than the government providing data in response to specific queries.

As a result, the government could theoretically choose to publish data that casts it in a positive light, in order to detract from other data that highlights its failings.

Open data can therefore become the opposite of what it is intended to be, according to Graham, providing a very biased picture of what is actually going on in the public sector. Read more

Sophie Curtis | The Telegraph | 29th October 2013

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has yet to be briefed on climate change by chief scientist Sir Ian Boyd

The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has never been briefed on climate change by the Government’s chief scientist since taking up his Cabinet post 14 months ago, The Independent has learnt.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the man in charge of preparing Britain for the effects of climate change has received just two briefings on the subject since taking up his post. Neither of them were from Sir Ian Boyd, the Chief Scientific Adviser at Mr Paterson’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

One of the briefings, by Defra’s head of sustainable business, Jonathan Tillson, was on the morning of 27 September this year, just before the launch of the latest Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) and briefly covered the main points expected to be in the report. Read more

Tom Bawden | The Independent | 30th October 2013

Miliband to force openness on firms

ED MILIBAND plans to make private companies that work for the taxpayer obey public sector transparency rules. The move risks angering chief executives who fear they will have to reveal commercial secrets.

Labour’s plan would extend the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to firms and charities selling services to the state. It would require thousands of organisations to disclose information about public sector contracts.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said: “More and more of our public services are being delivered by private companies and charities, out of reach of freedom of information. We must demand the same openness from them as we expect from government. It’s not on to let these organisations hide behind a veil of secrecy.” Read more

Jack Grimston | The Sunday Times | 27th October 2013

Weekly News Round-Up: Ministry of Defence, drones and drink-driving

MoD study sets out how to sell wars to the public

The armed forces should seek to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public by reducing the public profile of repatriation ceremonies for casualties, according to a Ministry of Defence unit that formulates strategy.

Other suggestions made by the MoD thinktank in a discussion paper examining how to assuage “casualty averse” public opinion include the greater use of mercenaries and unmanned vehicles, as well as the SAS and other special forces, because it says losses sustained by the elite soldiers do not have the same impact on the public and press.

The document, written in November 2012 and obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, discusses how public reaction to casualties can be influenced and recommends that the armed forces should have “a clear and constant information campaign in order to influence the major areas of press and public opinion”. Read more

Ben Quinn | The Guardian | 26th September 2013

Court case aims to force MoD’s hand with Freedom of Information requests on drones

Britain’s controversial deployment of US-built Reaper drones in Afghanistan will come under scrutiny in court this week in a closed hearing that will see a UK-based drone operator give evidence for the first time.

The two-day hearing starts in London on Monday. It is expected to include testimony from a UK-based drone operator with “1,000 hours of Reaper experience supporting UK and coalition activities”. He will speak on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Tom Watson, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group examining drones, will also give evidence.

The appeal to the Information Commissioner, filed by Chris Cole of the campaign group Drone Wars, comes after numerous Freedom of Information requests relating to Britain’s role in drone warfare were allegedly refused by the MoD. Mr Cole aims to challenge that stance, claiming public interest. Read more

Kunal Dutta | The Independent | 22nd September 2013

Thousands of dangerous drink-drivers are reoffenders

As new figures show the number of people killed in drink-driving crashes rose by 17%, the BBC has discovered that thousands of drink-drivers are repeat offenders.

A fifth of those on a DVLA “high-risk register” have been on it before.

There are calls for more stringent checks before offenders are given back their licences.

The government said it had tightened up rules, and drivers now had to prove they were no longer alcohol-dependent.

Drink-drivers who are more than two and a half times over the legal limit, who have two or more drink-drive offences within a 10-year period or who refuse to give breath, blood or urine samples, are classed by the DVLA as “high-risk offenders”.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC discovered there are currently 230,149 banned drivers on the DVLA’s scheme and of these, 42,207 drivers had been on it before. Read more

Nicola Beckford | BBC News | 27th September 2013

Information Commissioner: FoI exemption for private companies is “perverse”

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, joined a panel of experts to discuss the ‘future of transparency’ at City University London last night. The panel discussed FoI requests, the value of openness, and what happens when the need for transparency meets obstacles such as privatisation or national security.

Joining the Information Commissioner were human rights activist Helen Darbishire, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, barrister Robin Hopkins and director of Request Inititative, Brendan Montague. The event was chaired by  Linda Lewis, course director of City’s Political Journalism MA.

Christopher Graham made his position clear on whether FoI should apply to private companies carrying out public sector work. He said: “Private companies are increasingly taking on public functions. What seems to be so perverse is that there’s all this talk of transparency, but private companies are outside of FoI. We’ve got to find a way of FoI following the public pound. If you’ve got a socking great government contract that is to deliver a service that would have been applicable under FoI, how can you say this doesn’t apply?”

On the importance of transparency, Duncan Campbell said: “The society we live in is built on a fundamental system of checks and balances. There are competing centres of power – judiciary, executive, legislative, press – don’t trust any of them entirely. In order to make the public service function of these centres of power work, you need scrutiny and transparency. It’s the lifeblood of the multi-headed organism that is 21st century democracy.”

Discussion soon moved on to attitudes towards transparency. Brendan Montague said: “There isn’t a conspiracy of secrecy but there is a culture of secrecy in our country. Recently I was speaking to journalists in Norway who can access cabinet ministers’ emails online. Why couldn’t that be the case here?”

Robin Hopkins said that the biggest thing we could fix for FoI requests is the time frames and speed of turnaround. Brendan Montague pointed out that FoI only has power in the way it is used, and that it is the public who bring it to life. He said: “It’s only through our participation as citizens that we increase the power of FoI. It should be an offence to our mind that this information is not being published. We read about political corruption and think ‘of course’, we read that information is being kept private and think ‘of course’. We need to change that in ourselves. We need to get quite cross about this.”

Christopher Graham ended the night with a comment that one way to improve transparency would be to stop cuts to the Information Commissioner’s Office. He said: “Stop cutting the ICO budget. Over the past three years the very modest grant in aid has been cut and cut and cut.”

Dan Douglas | City Journalism | 23rd May 2013

Original article  here

See a Storify of Tweets from the panel discussion, curated by Jess Denham (Interactive Journalism MA)

 

 

 

 

Dumbing down, Minister? Michael Gove gets his educational facts from marketing surveys for Premier Inn and UKTV Gold

Dumbing down, Minister? Michael Gove gets his educational facts from marketing surveys for Premier Inn and UKTV Gold

They may provide comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price and broadcast some of the finest repeats on British television but few would consider either Premier Inn or UKTV Gold to be organisations on the cutting edge of educational research. Few that is except Education Secretary Michael Gove.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request by a retired teacher has left Mr Gove facing a torrent of criticism after it was revealed that he cited PR surveys commissioned by the two companies as evidence of British teenagers’ alleged ignorance of key historical figures and events.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday in March headlined “why I refuse to surrender to militant Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools” Mr Gove railed against the “enemies of promise” undermining the prospects of young people. Read more

Jonathan Brown | The Independent | 13th May 2013

Metropolitan Police give out cautions for a quarter of ALL crimes including rapes, drug trafficking and robbery

One in four of the crimes ‘solved’ by Britain’s largest police force last year involved the offender accepting a ‘slap on the wrist’, it emerged last night. Nearly 30,000 cautions were handed to criminals in London for offences including robbery, drug smuggling and even rape.

They made up a quarter of the 118,000 crimes counted as solved by police in the capital during those 12 months. Critics said the public and police are being short-changed by a rampant ‘cautions culture’ which lets off serious criminals.

The figures, revealed by a Freedom of Information request, showed the Metropolitan Police issued 28,998 cautions and youth warnings last year. Read more

Hugo Gye | The Daily Mail | 13th May 2013

Sussex Police fails to answer 15% of Freedom of Information requests on time

Sussex Police fails to answer 15% of all Freedom of Information requests on time. The force, which has come under fire for its failure to answer requests, admitted its own criminality in a Freedom of Information. It said about 140 responses annually – 15% – were delayed.

A spokesman said: “We continually aim for openness and transparency in providing information, and take all such requests seriously. However like most police forces and other public authorities we are facing a considerable increase in FOI requests, both from members of the public and also media organisations, which is stretching our resources.

“FOI requests to us this calendar year so far show a 41% increase over the same period last year. We are currently recruiting additional staff which we hope will help us manage this important work. Oversight is provided by the Information Commissioners Office with whom we regularly discuss these issues.” Read more
The Argus | 13th May 2013

Superstrong, telepathic – the bionic soldiers of the future: How radical technology could transform British troops within 30 years

Superstrong, telepathic – the bionic soldiers of the future: How radical technology could transform British troops within 30 years

Warfare may be an awful thing, but it has a habit of accelerating health technology in ways that are helpful to everyone. For example, in World War II the Allies made significant medical advances in vital areas such as developing antibiotic drugs — which the Germans didn’t possess — and performing lifesaving blood transfusions.

Now, however, the military is developing an alarming new interest in the human body and brain. It wants to create armies of mutant soldiers, equipped with unstoppable physical and mental powers.

Within 30 years, according to newly released Ministry of Defence papers, British soldiers should be able to lift huge weights, run at high speeds over extreme distances, have infra-red night vision built into their brains, and even be capable of transmitting thoughts by electronically aided telepathy. Read more

John Naish | The Daily Mail | 30th April 2013

Manchester Town hall rapped by information watchdog

Manchester council is to be investigated over claims they take too long to respond to Freedom of Information requests. Town hall bosses will be monitored by officials from the Wilmslow-based Information Commissioner’s Office this quarter after a ‘significant number of complaints’ were received over their inability to respond within the statutory time limit.

By law, the council has to provide a response to an FOI request within 20 working days. Anybody can submit a request although in certain circumstances officials can refuse to release certain details.

The council will be monitored until June 30 and failure to show signs of improvement within that period may result in enforcement action. Read more

Andrew Stuart | Manchester Evening News | 30th April 2013

ARMENIA: Red Flags Raised Over State-Funded NGOs Lack of Activity

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff has allocated some 500 million drams ($1.2 million) in grants to three dozen non-governmental organizations that have generally avoided publicizing their activities purportedly including human rights advocacy.

The Yerevan-based Center for Freedom of Information has obtained detailed information about the funding, provided from 2010-2012, from the Armenian Finance Ministry. The latter had to make it available in accordance with Armenia’s freedom of information legislation.

Hardly any of the 31 recipients of the presidential grants has been covered by the Armenian media to date. The government data shows that many of them were founded and registered with the Justice Ministry shortly before receiving state funding. Read more

Asbarez Post | 29th April 2013

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

 

£14m bill for gagging axed public officials

£14m bill for gagging axed public officials

Last month the Government banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that more than £18 million had been spent on silencing 600 staff.

However, the use of similar orders is widespread for departing employees across both local authorities and Whitehall, leading to accusations that ministers are being “hypocritical”.

In Whitehall, more than 200 civil servants and officials have signed compromise agreements in the past two years, at a total cost of £14 million. Officials said it was “standard practice” for them to include confidentiality clauses.

One of the biggest payoffs was made to Philippa Williamson, a former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office, who left on voluntary redundancy.

She received £462,000 and is thought to have signed a confidentiality agreement.

Local authorities have signed 4,562 compromise agreements with former staff, according to figures released under freedom of information laws. Most of them contain confidentiality clauses. Read more

Steven Swinford | The Telegraph | 2nd April 2013

Six European privacy investigators launch investigation of Google’s privacy policy

Six European data protection authorities will conduct formal investigations of Google’s privacy policy after the company repeatedly rejected their requests that it reverse changes it made to the policy last March, they announced Tuesday.

Data protection authorities in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K. have resolved to conduct investigations or inspections of Google’s privacy policy, following an initial investigation by the French data protection authority. The precise nature of the actions will depend on how the European Data Protection Directive has been transposed in their respective national laws.

In Germany, Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Privacy and Freedom of Information said it will review the way in which Google processes users’ data. Although Google seeks their consent, it is impossible for users to foresee the scope of this consent, Commissioner Johannes Caspar warned in a news release.

Analyses compiled by CNIL raise questions about the legality of Google’s processing of personal data, Caspar said.

The six countries will now take a close look at Google’s compliance with the law. “Should the data protection concerns be confirmed, appropriate supervisory measures may be taken in the individual member states,” he said.

The French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) said it has notified Google of the initiation of an inspection procedure.

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office followed suit. An ICO spokesman confirmed the investigation into whether the March 2012 privacy policy is compliant with the Data Protection Act, and added, “As this is an ongoing investigation it would not be appropriate to comment further.” Read more

Peter Sayer | Computer World | 2nd April 2013

How 1,800 suspended police keep their pensions

The figure will intensify mounting concern over how police can avoid the consequences of incompetence and misconduct, after Sir Norman Bettison, the former West Yorkshire chief constable, was criticised for stepping down while he was facing a disciplinary investigation.

Last week the police watchdog said Sir Norman, 57, would have faced gross misconduct charges and possible dismissal had he not resigned last year, entitled to a pension worth an estimated £87,000 annually.

Chief constables and their deputies will come under the closest scrutiny in the light of the new figures because a record number of senior officers have been sacked or suspended for misconduct in the last two years.

Last week the deputy chief constable of Cleveland police was sacked for gross misconduct.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 1,813 police officers in England and Wales retired or resigned while under investigation for disciplinary offences in the 10 years to 2011, the most recent data available. Read more

David Barrett | The Telegraph | 31st March 2013

90 MPs get free iPads for working on ‘paperless select committees’

The iPad tablet computers, worth tens of thousands of pounds, have been lent to 91 MPs who agreed not to receive information on the committees on paper, according to a Freedom of Information request.

It means that in all more than 250 MPs now have the iPads, because other colleagues choose to claim for tablet computers through the MPs’ expenses system.

Campaigners questioned why the MPs were entitled to iPads when there were cheaper tablet computers on the market.

Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is incumbent on the Commons authorities to demonstrate that money really is being saved by paying for tablets instead of automatically printing out committee documents.

“Otherwise people will suspect that it’s a ruse to allow the MPs to get their hands on the latest gizmo courtesy of the taxpayer.

“In any event, iPads are a top-of-the-range, premium product and there are much cheaper alternatives available which would save even more taxpayers’ money.”

The MPs are all members of one of nine committees which scrutinise the work of central Government on behalf of the House of Commons. Read more

Christopher Hope | Daily Telegraph | 2nd April 2013

Edinburgh Council ruled to have breached freedom of information

City of Edinburgh Council has been heavily criticised for its lack of disclosure of information about a statutory repair scheme.

The council has been accused of overcharging hundreds of city residents for allegedly unnecessary building repair work and expending “a disproportionate amount” of the Information Commissioner’s resources by taking 16 months to release information that should have been disclosed within 20 working days, a report has said.

In October 2011, Edinburgh property owner Helena Wilson asked her local authority for photographs and engineer and surveyor reports, as well as a breakdown of her repair costs.The council insisted that Ms Wilson’s request could prejudice an investigation amid allegations of breach of practice and refused it, the commissioner said.

The council reconsidered and pledged to provide the information in March 2011. But it took another 11 months of pressure by the commissioner to unearth the bulk of the information.

The commissioner has ruled that the council was not entitled to withhold most of the information requested and that it breached freedom of information guidelines. Read more

The Scotsman | 29th March 2013

Nigeria: Oyo State Not Bound To Domesticate The FOI Act – Commissioner

The Oyo State Government said on Monday that it was not bound to domesticate the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Ojo Adebayo, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan that the state’s decision on the Act was guided by the position of the law and not by the selfish interest of the government.

“It is not about the government, but of the law and the law says that both the federal and state government can concurrently legislate on it.

“Being an item on the concurrent list, both of us are free to either legislate on it or not.

“However, while the federal government had legislated and now we have the Act, Oyo State has not done that.

“The law is, therefore, made for the federal government and its agencies all over the country and it is not applicable to us in Oyo State.

“We are not bound by the Act, because we are operating federalism and the state is a co-partner in the federation,” he said.

The Attorney-General added that the state government may, however, voluntarily elect to domesticate the Act.

“Although we are not an appendage of the federal government, we may legislate on it if we feel otherwise,” he said.

NAN recalls that the Freedom of Information Bill was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in May 28, 2011. Read more

Leadership Newspapers Nigeria | 3rd April 2013

Scilly’s Council Criticised For Ignoring Information Requests

The Council of the Isles of Scilly is continuing to ignore some freedom of information queries. And they’ve been issued with their second notice in six months warning that they have breached the Freedom of Information Act.

The Council has refused to explain who gave authority for an official apology to be made in a meeting last May. At the time members were unclear who had authorised the public apology for comments that had allegedly upset an employee during a debate the previous July.

It later emerged that the upset staff member was offered a sum believed to be £500, after they went to a mainland employment tribunal.

The Council refused to say who had signed off the statement, saying it was confidential.

The Information Commissioner has criticised their response for not properly explaining why the information couldn’t be released and for failing to provide an internal review of that decision. Read more

Andy Hargreaves | Scilly Today | 2nd April 2013

Fears thousands of drivers can’t read basic road signs

Thousands of motorists could have passed their driving test without being able to read English road signs, experts fear.

At least 3,144 learners in Greater Manchester needed translators to guide them through their practical test last year. This was up from 2,274 in 2010/11 and 1,561 the year before.

The figures, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, revealed a growing trend that the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is looking to ban amid fears that new drivers will not understand basic road signs.

The DSA is also concerned that translators – often a family member or friend – could help the learner to cheat. Since 2009, £94,500 a year has been spent on cases outing such fraudsters. Read more

Mia de Graaf | Manchester Evening News | 2nd April 2013

FBI Denies UFO Crash ‘Hottel Memo’ Is Evidence Of Aliens

The FBI has insisted that a formerly secret document about UFOs which became an internet sensation after its release does not prove the existence of aliens.

The so-called Guy Hottel Memo was published in 2011 after a Freedom of Information Act request.

The document dates from 1950 and states that an investigator “for the Air Force” had reported three “flying saucers” had crashed in New Mexico. Read more

Michael Rundell | Huffington Post UK | 3rd April 2013

Children as young as SEVEN are being admitted to hospital with alcohol addiction

Children as young as seven are being admitted to hospital with alcohol problems, an investigation has found.

Shocking new figures have revealed dozens of under-10s have been hospitalised suffering from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use.

A Freedom of Information request to all of England’s 166 NHS hospital trusts revealed a total of 380 children aged 10 or under were treated for alcohol intoxication between 2008 and 2012.

Worryingly, 67 of the trusts approached either failed or refused to the Freedom of Information request, meaning the figures are likely to be even higher. Read more

Anna Hodgekiss | Daily Mail | 3rd April 2013

Women prisoners clamour to read ‘mummy porn’ novel Fifty Shades Of Grey after jails give in to requests to stock the book

Female prisoners at some of the toughest women only jails have been putting their names on waiting list for copies of Fifty Shades Of Grey after prison chiefs bought copies of the novel, it has been claimed.

According to a Freedom of Information request revealed today, taxpayers’ cash has been spent stocking at least five prison libraries with the ‘mummy porn’.

Now prison sources say the inmates, desperate to read the book, are putting their names on library waiting lists to get hold of it.

The book is stocked at HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire – a 310-capacity jail, which was previously home to Soham killer Ian Huntley’s partner Maxine Carr

A jail source added: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey has proved massively popular throughout the female prison estate.

‘Women were constantly requesting the book from prison libraries but were told it was not available, so in the end it was decided to get some copies in.’

It comes as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling orders all X-rated films must be removed from jails, but the crackdown does not include books. Read more

Daily Mail | 2nd April 2013

 

 

 

 

Alaska climate body hasn’t met since 2011, documents show

Alaska climate body hasn’t met since 2011, documents show

Rapid-response taskforce – set up by Sarah Palin to protect state from effects of global warming – last met in March 2011
A rapid-response taskforce, intended to protect Alaska from the worst effects of climate change, has failed to meet for two years, according to newly released documents.

The Immediate Action Work Group, which reports directly to Alaska’s governor, Sean Parnell, was charged with developing immediate response plans to future climate disasters.

However, the rapid-response team has not met since March 2011 and its supervisory body, the Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change, has gone even longer without meeting.

The sub-cabinet held its last meeting in February 2010, said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained the documents under freedom of information laws. Read more.

Suzanne Goldenberg | The Guardian | 5th February 2013

Information commissioner: Compulsory data protection audits needed

Compulsory data protection audits of councils and the NHS are needed to help eliminate “really stupid basic errors”, the Information Commissioner has said.

Christopher Graham told MPs taxpayers were losing out when public bodies were fined for mistakes in handling sensitive information.

He said “consensual” voluntary audits in some areas had proved a success.

But he said the Department for Communities and Local Government was “surprisingly opposed” to the proposal.

The watchdog currently only has the power to launch compulsory audits across central government. For all other organisations it has to secure consent before an audit can take place. Read more.

BBC | 5th February 2013

Whistleblowing Cases Soar By 276 Per Cent Since Beginning Of Financial Crisis

Whistleblowing Cases Soar By 276 Per Cent Since Beginning Of Financial Crisis

Whistleblowing cases reported to the Financial Services Authority have increased by 276 per cent in four years, according to information1 obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Kroll Advisory Solutions, the global investigations firm.

Kroll found that between June 2011 and May 2012 the FSA received 3,733 contacts to its whistleblowing helpline. This is a 189 per cent increase on the 1,293 calls to the helpline in the same period three years earlier (June 2008-May 2009) and a 276 per cent increase on the 994 calls made in the same period four years earlier (June 2007-May 2008).

Kroll, which provides corporate investigations, says that over the last 12 months almost one in five (18 per cent) of its investigations were prompted by a whistleblower2. In 60 per cent of these investigations the original allegations were upheld, while 19 per cent stemmed from malicious allegations made intentionally to get revenge on an individual or company. Read more.

Claire Middleton | Lawyer Monthly | 30th October 2012

 Information Commissioner Criticises Council Over FOI Request

The Information Commission has criticised the Council of the Isles of Scilly for failing to respond to freedom of information requests in the correct way.

The authority was issued with a decision notice on October 4th, forcing them to reply to a request for data on the amount of money spent in legal fees dealing with freedom of information requests.

The request was originally submitted in December 2010 and was acknowledged by the Council in January 2011. But since then, the applicant has heard nothing back from them. They should normally respond within 20 days. Read more.

Scilly Today | 30th October 2012

US: Credit reports stolen from Experian after bank hacked

Last year, 847 credit reports were stolen from agency Experian after a Texas bank was hacked and its account hijacked

In September last year, 847 credit reports on US citizens were stolen from credit reference agency Experian after a bank in Texas was hacked.

According to the Bloomberg news agency, hackers accessed an employee PC at Abilene Telco Federal Credit Union. That PC had access to Experian’s credit reports, so hackers were able to steal the information through a legitimate account.

The breach was one of many revealed following investigations by privacy advocate ‘Dissent Doe’ and other contributors to the DataLossDB.org website. Experian had informed the Attorney General of the breach when it happened, and ‘Dissent Doe’ later found out the details of this breach and more through a Freedom of Information Act request. Read more.

Information Age | 30th October 2012

More than half of Harrow’s public computers out of order

Library users have criticised the council after figures showed that more than half of its public computers are not working.

Harrow Council’s response to a freedom of information request submitted by blogger Paul Boakes, who runs community website iharrow, shows that as of October 19, 76 of the borough’s 142 public computers are out of order.

The worst of Harrow’s 11 libraries to try and use a computer is at Gayton Library in St John’s Road, where just four of the 19 machines are working. Read more

David Hardiman | Harrow Times | 30th October 2012

Revealed – the £13m bill Norfolk and Suffolk councils ran up for expert advice

Council leaders have defended spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to pay specialist consultants, including a bill of £3.3m to get expert advice on the proposed incinerator in King’s Lynn.

Over the past three years, councils in Norfolk and Suffolk have racked up a bill of more than £13m to employ external experts, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Norfolk County Council was the biggest spender on consultants, having spent just under £5.6m in the financial years 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12. Read more.

Dan Grimmer | Eastern Daily Press  | 30th October 2012

 

Ambassador held official talks with US defence firm he later joined

Ambassador held official talks with US defence firm he later joined

Sir David Manning, the former UK Ambassador to Washington and a foreign affairs adviser to Tony Blair, met with senior executives at Lockheed Martin and gave advice on the handling of contracts affecting the company before taking a paid role with the defence giant.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request disclose the contacts Sir David had with the multinational arms manufacturer before he left the diplomatic service and became a non-executive director of the UK wing of Lockheed Martin.

The documents, which were released only after pressure from the Information Commissioner, will raise further concerns about the “revolving door” involving defence companies and senior figures from the public sector. Read more.

Adam Sherwin | The Independent | 28th October 2012

How passenger plane was left with no-one at the controls after BOTH pilots fell asleep 

Two pilots fell asleep while in sole charge of passenger planes thousands of feet up in the air.

Their co-pilots had been on the flight deck at the time and both had been alone in the cockpit, the Civil Aviation Authority revealed.

One one occasion, the captain left to use the toilet and then tried to radio his first officer – but got no reply.

He then had to use a code to get back into the cockpit and found his second-in-command slumped over the controls. Read more.

Emma Reynolds | Daily Mail | 29th October 2012.

Stress-related absences rise at Gloucestershire Police

Stress-related absence has increased by two-thirds over a 12-month period at Gloucestershire Police, according to figures obtained by the BBC.

The number of days lost to stress rose to 4,254 in 2011/12, an increase from 2,586 in the previous year.

Gloucestershire’s Assistant Chief Constable said she was “concerned” by the findings.

The statistics were released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, following a request by the BBC. Read more.

BBC | 29th October 2012

Welsh council admits £1m worth of publicly funded kit remains unused

A Welsh council official has said he remains “totally confident” that 2,400 publicly funded laptops worth £1m will find a home soon, despite the expiration of the devices’ warranties nearly nine months ago.

Torfaen County Borough Council, based in south Wales, controversially procured 8,600 laptops in April 2011 from XMA, amid claims from reseller rivals that the process was unfair as the original tender was for the much smaller amount of just 408 devices.

Freedom of Information request filed by ChannelWeb showed that, of the original 8,600 HP notebooks, 6,200 are finally in use across Torfaen and Monmouthshire as part of the iLearnWales initiative, while the remaining portion gathers dust in storage. Read more.

Hannah Breeze | Channel Web | 29th October 2012

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