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.
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
Somewhere, somehow, the work to end violence against women lost momentum. Despite the improvements made over decades in tackling domestic and sexual violence, the scale of the problem remains shocking. Repeat violence is worryingly high, and there is a risk that we are taking progress for granted when much more could and should be done.
New freedom of information data from police forces reveals that up to a third of domestic incidents recorded by the police are “repeat” incidents, that is the same victims calling for protection from the same perpetrators. Time and again, opportunities to intervene and protect families are missed.
In the run up to Valentine’s Day on 14 February – the focus of the international campaign One Billion Rising to end violence against women – there is more every one of us could do to reduce the insidious, dangerous violence that still haunts too many women’s lives. Read more.
Yvette Cooper | The Guardian | 5th February 2013
The current year has so far seen 1,054 cases, compared to 712 in 2011/12. The just released figures for Q3 show a record number of new cases (424) for a quarter.The number of new data protection enforcement cases taken on by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2012/13 has surged by almost 50% compared to the whole of the previous year – with three months still to go, it has emerged.
Potential reasons for the rises include the introduction in the NHS of routine reporting of all data security breaches to the ICO. Previously only serious breaches, involving particularly sensitive data or a high number of individuals, were reported.
Another factor in the growth in the ICO’s caseload could be the impact of monetary penalties, with organisations aware that the watchdog looks favourably on those that self-report breaches rather than try to hide them. Read more.
Local Government Lawyer | 5th February 2013
The Official Information Act will be extended to cover some aspects of how the courts work, but the Government has ignored calls for it to also cover Parliament.
It is also set to bring in new grounds for blocking the release of commercial information in response to recommendations from the Law Commission.
Justice Minister Judith Collins yesterday said the Government planned to press ahead with some of its key recommendations.
These included extending the freedom of information law to the administrative functions of the courts, including information about expenditure, resources and statistical information about cases. Read more.
Vernon Small | Stuff.co.nz | 5th February 2013
Drop in school sport support blamed on funding cuts
On the eve of an Olympic Games that has promised to “inspire a generation of young people through sport”, research has indicated a 60% drop in the amount of time dedicated to organising school sport nationwide in the wake of government cuts.
The research, compiled by Labour through Freedom of Information requests to 150 top tier local authorities, shows there are now 110 fewer School Sport Partnerships – local networks of organised school sport – than there were before the cuts in 2009/10, a decline of 37%.
Almost half of local authorities (48%) recorded a decrease in the number of School Sport Partnerships, while 28% no longer have any
Owen Gobson | The Guardian | July 18th 2012
Information commissioner welcomes ‘step change’ in transparency
Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, heralds the coalition’s open data white paper as “a step change” in commitment to transparency in government and public services.
Among the aims outlined in the paper are easier access to public data, more standardised formatting and embedding a ‘presumption to publish’ most data. In Graham’s view, the document represents an extension of the progress made over a number of years with freedom of information.
“We don’t see open data as a replacement for freedom of information,” he explains. “You still need to have access to other information under freedom of information, email and reports and so on. There are two things together – data sets and the more traditional record – which lead to true openness. But on the whole, a big tick.”
Gill Hitchcock | The Guardian | July 18th 2012
Pressure on budgets makes primary health care trusts limit operations
Freedom of information requests by GP magazine reveal that 90% of trusts hold back on hip, knee and cataract operations
Pressure to save money has left 90% of primary care trusts restricting procedures including hip, knee and cataract operations, weight loss surgery and tonsillectomies, according to freedom of information requests by GP Magazine.
Health rationing, sometimes cutting across national guidance on the treatment of conditions, was leaving patients very frustrated, according to one senior GP; it was creating waiting lists by the back door, according to another. The National Obesity Forum said cuts in bariatric surgery could lead to crippling extra costs from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
James Meikle | The Guardian | 19th of June 2012
Hate crimes against disabled people soar to a record level
‘Anti-scrounger’ rhetoric blamed for doubling of offences since 2008 financial crisis
The number of disability hate crimes reported to police has reached a record high, sparking concerns that the Coalition’s “anti-scrounger” rhetoric is fuelling hostility to the most vulnerable members of society. A total of 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year.
That figure, based on Freedom of Information answers supplied by 43 of 44 forces, represents a 14 per cent rise on 2010. Disability hate crime has doubled since the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Despite the rise, the number of people convicted for the crime actually fell last year. Only 523 people were found guilty of a disability hate crime in 2011, The Independent has discovered, down 5 per cent from 2010. It suggests that barely one in four reported crimes leads to a conviction – a ratio that got worse last year.
Ben Riley-Smith | The Independent | 19th of June 2012
Tobacco investments to be reconsidered by Norfolk and Essex councils
Two councils in the East region are to reconsider multi-million pound pension fund investments in tobacco before they take a lead role in NHS anti-smoking campaigns in 2013.
The move comes after a BBC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed councils across the region have invested more than £167m in tobacco.
Norfolk has invested £25.9m while Essex has invested £9.1m.
The two councils have said they would now review their investments
BBC | 18th of June 2012
Devon and Cornwall Police Taser use nearly doubles
The number of times police have used Tasers in Devon and Cornwall has nearly doubled over a two-year period.
Figures obtained by the BBC through the Freedom of Information Act show the stun guns were used 34 times in 2010 and 65 times last year.
Human rights groups say they were being used too readily. Devon and Cornwall police said the rise could be linked to the increased number of officers now trained to use Tasers.
Of the force’s 3,200 officers, 480 are trained to use Tasers, up from 150 before 2009 and spending on the weapon rose from £33,470 in 2009 to £101,379 last year, according to an FoI request.
BBC | 19th June 2012
Fife Ness Coastguard Station continues ‘life-or-death’ work as closure approaches
A significantly understaffed workforce at Fife Ness Coastguard Station has coordinated more than 400 potential life-and-death rescue operations since it was announced last July that the centre is to close.
A Freedom of Information request by The Courier has revealed that between July 2011 and June 7 the rescue centre — which will close on September 28 — handled 426 incidents recorded as alarm, distress or uncertainty requiring rescue coordination.
The news that Fife Ness, along with the base at Clyde, would be shutting was confirmed by the UK Government last summer following a lengthy consultation period.
Michael Alexander | The Courier | 18th of June 2012
Court out: Shocking haul of 10,000 deadly weapons seized every year from people going into court
At least 35,000 dangerous items such as guns and knives have been recovered by court staff in the last three years.
More than 10,000 deadly weapons are seized every year from suspects, witnesses and the public as they go into court. Figures reveal at least 35,000 dangerous items such as guns and knives have been recovered by court security staff across the country in the last three years.
Mirror | 18th of June 2012
Fear of bullying claims hits public-sector reform
Senior officials express grave doubts over viability of Croke Park deal. Public-sector reform is impossible because managers “fear” they will not be “backed up” and could be accused of bullying if they try to tackle underperformance, top civil servants have said.
Confidential Department of Finance documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show senior officials have expressed grave doubts over the viability of the Croke Park deal.
These documents come amid fresh concern that the agreement is not delivering and follow comments by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar that compulsory redundancies must form part of any new Croke Park deal.
Daniel McConnell and Tom Lyons | Irish Independent | 17th of June 2012
Tomorrow evening Request Initiative will host a roundtable discussion on the public interest and FoIA led by barrister, information law specialist and member of our board Robin Hopkins.
Robin advises the Information Commissioner’s Office, local authorities and other public bodies on policy changes, consultations and equalities duties. He co-edits the Information Law Reports and Panopticon, a leading information law blog, and is on the editorial board of the Freedom of Information Journal and of the Law Society’s Freedom of Information Handbook (2012 edition).
Public interest tests apply to two thirds of the exemptions in the FoIA and every exception in the EIR. But the public interest is not clearly defined anywhere in UK law. What is meant by the public interest?
Campaigners and journalists argue open government and transparency prevent corruption and bad practice. Therefore, the public interest is served by publishing information that exposes wrongdoing and waste.
However public bodies reason that transparency can impede the function of government and have a “chilling effect” on free and frank discussions. Therefore it is often in the public’s interest for meetings to take place in private, behind closed doors. Nick Clegg said that publishing the NHS risk register would reduce civil servants’ ability to provide “frank and fearless” advice to ministers.
Request Initiative board member and barrister Robin Hopkins will lead a discussion that addresses some key issues around the public interest. How do different organisations understand the concept? Why can’t civil servants provide frank and fearless advice to the public? How can campaigners and journalists deploy public interest arguments most effectively? What are the legal precedents that can help us understand the public interest as it is applied in the UK?
Request looks forward to welcoming back an audience of informed FoIA professionals, journalists, campaigners and students for what promises to be its best event of the year for so far.
Tickets are free but registration is required. Please use this link: http://publicinterestandfoia.eventbrite.co.uk/.
Journalists should be granted greater access to sensitive personal data in cases where publication has a strong public interest under the Freedom of Information Act, a leading barrister told data protection officers today.
Robin Hopkins, a practicing barrister specialising in transparency, was speaking at the Information Commissioner’s Office Data Protection Officer Conference in Manchester attended by hundreds of staff from councils, central government, the NHS and private companies from Apple to Zurich Financial Services.
He identified a trend in decisions by information tribunals in deciding sensitive personal data should be given to reporters for publication where there was a public interest even where that same data would not be given to a member of the public.
“Journalists have a stronger hand to play at tribunal than they had even 18 months ago,” he said. Graham Smith of the Information Commissioner’s Office chaired the session and added: “The applicant blind element is starting to crack a bit and I don’t think that is entirely inappropriate.
Hopkins, from the law firm 11KBW and a blogger at panopticonblog.com, referred to the success of Ian Cobain of The Guardian in obtaining information relating to the prosecution of BNP leader Nick Griffin’s 1998 prosecution.
He pointed to the fact that Condition 10 of Schedule 3 of Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act triggers the Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000.
In the order “lawful processing” of personal data includes publication by a journalist where disclosure serves a “substantial public interest” and also “in connection with” issues such as “the commission of an unlawful act”.
The Freedom of Information Act states that public bodies must treat requests in a way which is “applicant blind”. However, this clause in the Data Protection act is recognised as an exemption.
Smith also told the workshop of data protection officers that there was nothing in the law preventing them from asking about the applicant if that was helpful, for example if they are a journalist, although they could not limit the information disclosed based on the answer.
Almost three million criminal record checks were carried out in England and Wales last year, amounting to one person in 20 having their backgrounds examined, a FoIA reveals.
A Freedom of Information Act request obtained by Big Brother Watch revealed that councils, companies and scout groups were among more than 2,000 organisations that ran the checks. Nick Pickles, from Big Brother Watch said: “The checks have already been shown to brand innocent people as criminals and cost people their jobs for totally unrelated incidents that would not suggest they pose a risk.”
The Government has outlined plans to reform the system of checks, saying it was time to return to a more common sense approach.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said last February the current system would be scaled back so that only those working most closely with children or vulnerable adults would need to undergo the checks. The government said results would also be transferred when people change jobs, cutting down on bureaucracy.
The changes were outlined in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which aims to scale back state powers.
Mr. Pickle, the pressure group’s director said: “For nearly three million people to be checked in just one year is remarkable. Given just how many organisations now have access to the system, there is a clear risk that it is easy to delve into someone’s private life and run a CRB check without them ever knowing.” He added.
Steve Jobs’ ‘distorted reality’ and drug use, FBI file shows
The US Government released a previously secret 191-page FBI dossier on the late Apple chief Steve Jobs yesterday, following a Freedom of Information Act request. The document, compiled 20 years ago, notes his past drug use and cites interviews with people who say he had a penchant to “distort reality”. One long–term friend described him as “a deceptive individual who is not completely forthright and honest. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals”.
Other acquaintances criticised the Apple creator for abandoning his highschool sweetheart after she gave birth to their first child and confirmed Jobs’s own confession to the FBI that he had experimented with drugs in his youth. While a number of people, including family and friends, portrayed Jobs in negative terms, criticising his manner and his personal life, they nevertheless described him as an impressive individual.
A FoIA reveals another child protection scandal at Haringey Council
Haringey Council in North London — slammed for its failings in the death of Baby P- failed to protect ten starving children and tries to keep it a secret, The Sun reports. The case involved a mum jailed last year for cruelty after her ten children were found filthy, starving and covered in lice. The report reveals that council staff first had contact with the family in July 2002, seven years before police rescued the children. At least one was on Haringey’s at risk register in 2006, three years before their mum was arrested. It raises fears the youngsters could have been rescued earlier.
The Sun took the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office where Deputy Commissioner Graham Smith ruled in its favour. His ruling will apply to all councils in future. Claude Knights of the charity Kidscape said: “This could help save lives. If The Sun had not pursued it, how would we have known about Haringey’s failings?” Haringey said: “This case happened when things were going badly wrong with our child protection services.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has spent over £30,000 of taxpayers’ money for the redecoration his flat at Number 10 and 11 Downing Street, The Mirror, The Telegraph and The Independent have reported.
Following FoIA requests to the Treasury, it was revealed £32,651 have been spent for improvements in the year starting in April 2010, just before the coalition came to power.
The news follows the public outcry of David Cameron spending £60,000 in refurbishing his flat above Number 11, with half of that amount coming out of the public purse.
The Independent quotes the Labour MP Tom Watson who said: “The government is asking hundreds of thousands of council tenants to forgo work on their homes because of the cuts. George Osborn should take a leadership position and he clearly has not.”
The Mirror reports that a Treasury spokesman said Number 11 Downing Street is a Grade I-listed building and the Government has an obligation to maintain it to an am appropriate standard.
Welfare reform narrative may victimize the disabled
The coalition’s “scoungers” welfare reform narrative about disabled people has jeopardised the safety of disabled people, charities have warned as The Western Mail reports. A Freedom of Information request to South Wales Police showed there were 392 incidents of hate crimes against disabled people where prejudice might have been a factor.
THERE IS “enormous public interest” in naming the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation’s seed donor and “a pressing need to scrutinise” any links he has with the oil and coal industry, an information tribunal judge heard today (Friday, January 27, 2012).
Brendan Montague, the co-founder and director of the Request Initiative, asked the tribunal to reveal the name of the wealthy public figure who gave £50,000 to launch Lord Lawson’s think tank, an increasingly influential charity which attacks climate science and has called for changes to climate policies.
Mr Montague’s initial Freedom of Information request was refused by the Charity Commission in 2010 and that decision was upheld by the Information Commissioner on the grounds that it would be “unfair” to release personal data without permission from the funder.
However, Mr Montague took the case to the Information Tribunal arguing there is a “legitimate public interest” in releasing the name because the cash has financed Lord Lawson’s charity while it has been calling for huge changes in government policy. The donor handed over at least £50,000 out of a total of £500,000 raised by Lord Lawson in the first year of the foundation’s existence.
The public interest argument has been supported by professor James Hansen, adjunct professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute and one of the first influential voices to warn of catastrophic climate change. Hansen has been joined by professors John Abraham and Stephen Lewandowsky in his calls for transparency on the GWPF’s funders.
Professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which documents how US think tanks were funded by the oil industry to smear climate science, and Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics and author of Requiem for Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, are also supporting the request.
Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal; Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of the Lancet; Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine; Anthony Costello, professor of international child health; Rachel Stancliffe, director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; Dr Robin Stott, co-chair of the Climate and Health Council and Maya Tickell-Painter, director of the Medsin Healthy Planet Campaign, have publicly supported the Freedom of Information request, although this does not form part of the hearing.
Mr Hopkins told the judge:
“There is enormous public interest in transparency as to who that individual is. There is a pressing need to scrutinise whether or not that person has any ‘significant interest’ in the energy industry. It appears that the Charity Commission makes no attempt to address that issue – it is left entirely in the hands of the GWPF itself.
“Further, it is important that the public knows which high-profile figure has this degree of influence within GWPF. Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee has expressed this public interest and has pressed for transparency on the issue of GWPF’s donors. It has been stonewalled.”
Professor Hansen, whose testimony before the United States Congress in 1988 focused international attention on climate change, writes in his witness statement:
“Climate change is a moral issue of unprecedented scope, a matter of intergenerational injustice, as today’s adults obtain benefits of fossil fuel use, while consequences are felt mainly by young people and future generations…
“The fossil fuel kingpins are separated from the foot soldiers who serve as their public mouthpieces, separated by multiple layers of people, and even by corporations…the public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.”
Professor John Abraham, associate professor of engineering with expertise in thermal-fluid sciences at the University of St Thomas in Australia, said:
“The GWPF has been engaged in significant obfuscation with respect to the reality of climate change and they have been engaged in unwarranted criticisms of well-respected scientists…
“It is a charade institution meant to suggest that scientists are still debating the cause of climate change. With it now apparent that the scientist-advisors of the GWPF are anything but scientists, it is clear that this organization is tailored to promote mistruths and half-truths. Consequently, the release of information regarding the funding of GWPF is in the public’s interest.”
Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, a Winthrop professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, said:
“The GWPF has engaged in on-going obfuscation of the reality of climate change and they have been purveying unwarranted criticisms of well-respected scientists. I believe that the GPWF is an outfit dedicated to mislead the public into thinking that climate scientists are still debating the cause of climate change— when in fact the peer-reviewed literature abounds with evidence that those fundamentals were resolved long ago.”
Professor Naomi Oreskes, professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego and adjunct professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said:
“The Global Warming Policy Foundation is the latest incarnation of a climate sceptic think tank that conforms to the model first devised by public relations firms working on behalf of the tobacco industry… The website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation publishes many of the claims devised and propagated by the earlier climate change deniers.
“The Global Warming Policy Foundation is practicing climate denial and effectively creating doubt about whether climate change is being caused by carbon dioxide emissions while actively campaigning for changes in government policy relating to the regulation of carbon dioxide. In doing so, it is clearly acting in the interests of the fossil fuel industry and against the general public interest.”
Professor Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt [correct] University, Canberra, said:
“The reluctance of governments around the world to act with the alacrity and seriousness warranted by the scientific warnings has in substantial measure been due to the campaign to discredit climate science by a network of well funded think tanks and related organisations.
“The Global Warming Policy Foundation advances the same arguments put forward by ‘sceptic’ organisations in the United States, and has links to some of them…when assessing the claims of the GWPF the public has a right to know who is funding it.
“Given the enormous states, the conflicting claims, and the shadowy but now well documented history of financing of sceptic organisations by politically motivated corporations and individuals connected to the fossil-fuel industries, the principle of transparency is of utmost importance, and I urge the Information Rights Tribunal to instruct the Charity Commission to make public the funding sources of the GWPF.”
Tribunal judge Alison McKenna is expected to reach a decision within four weeks. She will either decide the name must be disclosed in which case she will produce a substitute decision notice which the Information Commissioner’s Office will then communicate to the Charity Commission. It is possible the judge could ask for the name to be released within 35 days of the decision notice. If the judge rules against publishing the donor’s name, the case may be appealed to the Upper Tribunal on legal grounds.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation was founded in November 2009 ahead of the Copenhagan conference on climate change. The foundation has received £500,000 in funding from individuals and family trusts. Lord Lawson has refused to reveal the name of any of his funders.
Lord Lawson gave evidence before the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons in March 2010 where he accused the University of East Anglia of failing to be transparent about climate science.
“We are absolutely clean. I would be very happy to see the names of all our donors published, I can assure you, it would be very, very good.
“But if they wish to remain anonymous, for whatever reason, maybe they have other family members who take a different view and they do not want to have a row within the family, maybe they do not want a whole lot of other people asking them for money…”
A photocopy of a bank statement showing the name of the seed donor was sent by Lord Lawson to the Charity Commission to prove he had the cash to set up the charity. The commission has refused to release the name or the bank statement. The commission does not hold information about any of the other funders.
Research conducted by the Reuters Institute of the Study of Journalism has shown that the GWPF has been the country’s most effective climate sceptic organisation, while Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change has argued that information published by the charity is inaccurate.
Lord Lawson served as energy minister under Margaret Thatcher. He was later president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, which fosters links between the oil industry, government and academia and has been sponsored by BP and Shell. A Mike Smith from BP was chairman of the BIEE in 2003 during Lawson’s last year as president.
Lawson is chairman of Central Europe Trust Co Ltd, a consultancy business dealing in assets in Eastern Europe for which he has earned £76,000 a year. The company, in which Lawson was previously a shareholder, boasts that BP Amoco and Shell have been major clients. The company suffered losses and Lawson no longer has a financial stake.