Authorities at GCHQ, the government eavesdropping agency, are facing embarrassing revelations about internal correspondence in which Wikileaksfounder Julian Assange is discussed, apparently including speculation that he is being framed by Swedish authorities seeking his extradition on rape allegations.
The records were revealed by Assange himself in a Sunday night interview with Spanish television programme Salvados in which he explained that an official request for information gave him access to instant messages that remained unclassified by GCHQ.
A message from September 2012, read out by Assange, apparently says: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of XYZ … It is definitely a fit-up… Their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate.” The messages appear to contain speculation and chatter between GCHQ employees, but Assange gave little further explanation about exactly who they came from. Read more
Giles Tremlett & Ben Quinn | The Guardian | 20th May 2013
Nick Clegg was last night facing fresh pressure over his role in obtaining funding for a charity linked to his wife Miriam after the Liberal Democrat leader’s officials were ordered to hand over key emails to Britain’s data watchdog.
The demand by Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, means the Cabinet Office will be forced to release to him a pile of private correspondence relating to the £12 million Government grant received by Booktrust last year.
The Mail on Sunday revealed in December that the charity received the money after one of Mr Clegg’s aides lobbied for it. This meant the grant could be given direct – rather than having to compete with other charities. This newspaper then made a Freedom of Information request to the Government for the release of emails sent between officials relating to the deal. Read more
Glen Owen | The Daily Mail | 19th May 2013
The Department for Work and Pensions has lost a major court battle to keep the locations of thousands of workfare placements secret.
At the end of a freedom of information challenge that has lasted 15 months, Judge David Marks QC ruled that the DWP must publish the names of businesses and charities hosting hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who, in some cases, must undertake weeks of unpaid work as a condition of receiving benefits.
Marks, sitting with two others in the first-tier tribunal, said the DWP had offered “a paucity of compelling economic evidence” to back its claims that organisations involved would be seriously financially damaged by negative publicity campaigns should their identities become public. Read more
Shiv Malik | The Guardian | 19th May 2013
Friends of the former chief whip, who was forced to resign after admitting swearing at police officers in Downing Street, have established that the head of the Metropolitan Police held a meeting with journalists just prior to reports appearing in two newspapers suggesting a police investigation had found no evidence to support Mr Mitchell’s version of events.
Details of the meeting emerged after supporters of Mr Mitchell used a Freedom of Information request to ask about Sir Bernard’s meeting with reporters. Scotland Yard has confirmed that meetings with journalists took place but has not provided details about what was discussed.
Mr Mitchell stepped down last October after allegations appeared in the press that he had referred to police officers in Downing Street as ******* plebs and morons when they refused to open the main gates to allow him to cycle through. Read more
Martin Evans | The Telegraph | 19th May 2013
The number of people employed by the government to work on the UK’s response to the effects of climate change has been cut from 38 officials to just six, triggering accusations that David Cameron’s promise to be the greenest government has been abandoned. The UK is facing a multi-billion pound bill over the next few years for the costs of adapting to the effects of climate change – including flooding, much fiercer storms, droughts, heatwaves and more extreme weather.
The government’s advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, have warned that the measures needed to prepare the UK’s infrastructure will include defences for power stations, transport and communication networks, changes to how buildings are constructed, and new ways of trying to prevent flooding, such as an upgrade to the Thames Barrier.
But the number of officials charged with dealing with the issue within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been dramatically reduced. A freedom of information response to a question by Friends of the Earth confirmed the reduction from 38 to six posts. Read more
Fiona Harvey | The Guardian | 17th May 2013
The money is paid out when turbines are spinning but the electricity they are generating is surplus to requirements. Freedom of Information documents reveal that since 2011 more than £26.5million has been paid out under the scheme.
The payments, branded “utterly bonkers” by Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, will enrage consumers facing an effective £100 surcharge on their bills for green energy.
The National Grid makes the payments if wind power is surplus to requirements or cannot be fed to places that need it because of system bottlenecks. Read more
Richard Creasy | The Express | 19th May 2013
The Government has banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that £18million has been spent on silencing 600 staff. However, a survey using Freedom of Information laws has found that the orders are also widely used across police forces, leading to concerns that whistleblowers are being silenced.
Stephen Barclay, a Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “It is very concerning to hear that police officers with issues of concern which are in public interest appear to have been silenced through gagging clauses.
“These agreements have a clear effect beyond those who sign them because other officers with ambition will see what has happened to those who have concerns and decide to stay silent.” Read more
Steven Swinford | The Telegraph | 17th May 2013
England’s largest local councils spent more than £6 million hosting the Olympic Torch for last year’s Games, figures published on the one-year anniversary of the start of the relay show. On average, authorities paid out just over £40,000 to host the flame, funding items such as security and street furniture, as well as road-closure notices and evening celebrations.
The biggest spends were in the London boroughs of Bexley and Waltham Forest, who both forked out in excess of £279,000, while more than a dozen other authorities recorded six-figure sums to host the Torch.
Those councils who enjoyed multiple visits from the iconic flame and its formidable entourage often reported larger spends than those whose glimpse of the parade was fleeting, while larger authorities with huge populations understandably spent more than their smaller counterparts. Read more
The Belfast Telegraph | 19th May 2013
The first I heard of Durham University’s sensational decision to splash out millions on a Picasso painting among other new art was when I received this text from my son, who is a student there: “Durham Uni spent £1.4m on art for one of the centres. … Now we know where my £9,000 is going.” A few seconds later came another text: “Why do we need it?”
It’s the right question to ask and so far Durham’s elders have failed to put up a convincing answer, leaving many students wondering if the university is getting too big for its boots in its drive to compete with Oxbridge, even over its art collections. What’s interesting about the cynicism of my son – and he says his friends feel the same – is how the punitive cost of soaring tuition fees is turning today’s students into bolshie consumers rather than bolshie CND marchers.
How times have changed – twenty years ago no student would have given a toss about what their university was spending on art – or their wine cellars for that matter. So in that sense it’s rather heartening to hear that students are still capable of being goaded into action as the cost of the art only came out into the open after Durham’s student union put in for a Freedom of Information request; one that was originally refused. Read more
Margareta Pagano | The Independent | 19th May 2013
Police collect a DNA sample from a child every ten minutes, it emerged last night. Officers took nearly 54,000 swabs of genetic material from under 18s last year.
On average, 27 primary school children had their DNA taken by the police every week to put on the national database. The figures were uncovered by anti-prison campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform using the Freedom of Information Act.
Frances Crook, the league’s chief executive, said most children were ‘just up to mischief’ and it was wrong to treat them like hardened criminals. Read more
Jack Doyle | The Daily Mail | 20th May 2013
More than 1.2 million cases involving claims for disability and unemployment allowances have been taken to the special tribunals since April 2010, latest Ministry of Justice data reveals.
With each case costing an average £377 to process, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the bill has been £475million.
Rising unemployment, a large backlog and confusion over welfare reforms and controversial work capability assessments mean that the figure is forecast to hit nearly £1billion by the end of this Parliament in 2015. The numbers were compiled by researchers at ilegal, the internet forum for law specialists. Read more
Ted Jeory | The Express | 19th May 2013
THE Royal Regiment of Scotland have topped a military league of shame which shows they had most positive drugs tests out of the whole British Army. There were 62 positive drugs tests on soldiers from the regiment in 2012, according to newly obtained Ministry of Defence figures.
The military personnel from the regiment – whose motto is Nemo Me Impune Lacessit or no one provokes me with impunity – tested positive for illegal substances including cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy.
The figures – which were revealed in a Freedom of Information request – show that a total of 140,563 tests were carried out on Army, RAF and Royal Navy personnel – with 575 testing positive for Class A, B and C drugs. Read more
Lynn McPherson | The Daily Record | 19th May 2013
Hundreds of people have hired a taxi and made off without paying after being driven to their destination, figures have revealed. Between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012, a total of 270 ‘ride and run’ incidents were reported in Suffolk, according to a Freedom of Information request.
And now taxi drivers are calling for a crackdown on the problem because they say the true figure will be much higher as many incidents are not reported. John Lloyd, manager of Hawk Express Cabs based in Ipswich, said the issue has become an increasing problem.
“Sometimes the driver reports it to police and they are encouraged to do so,” he added. “The police do their best. They take the passenger’s address and contact details and try to persuade them to pay with 24 hours and if not, it will be made a criminal offence. Read more
Lauren Everitt | East Anglian Daily Times | 17th May 2013
The Internal Revenue Service denied the existence of any documents related to its policy of targeting Tea Party organizations in response to a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request, even though such documents were later discovered by the IRS inspector general.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative nonprofit group, filed a FOIA request in 2010 through investigative journalist Lynn K. Walsh seeking all IRS documents related to the agencies tax-exempt division specifically mentioning the Tea Party.
IRS headquarters responded in 2011 that it “found no documents specifically responsive to your request.” However, the May 14 inspector general report found that the “first Sensitive Case Report [identifying Tea Party groups] was prepared by the Technical Unit” in April of 2010. Read more
CJ Ciaramella | The Washington Free Beacon | 17th May 2013
The government appears to have left open the door to the resurrection of the controversial “snooper’s charter” bill to track everyone’s email, internet and mobile text use. Whitehall sources confirmed that the possibility of legislation remains under discussion despite a declaration by Nick Clegg that the communications data legislation “isn’t going to happen while Lib Dems are in government”.
A Downing Street background briefing note on investigating crime in cyberspace published alongside the Queen’s speech says: “We are continuing to look at this issue closely and the government’s approach will be proportionate, with robust safeguards in place.”
The text of the Queen’s speech gives the go-ahead to legislation, if needed, to deal with the limited technical problem of there being many more devices including phones and tablets in use than the number of internet protocol (IP) addresses that allow the police to identify who sent an email or made a Skype call at a given time. Read more
Alan Travis | The Guardian | 8th May 2013
The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, was accused in court on Wednesday of wrongly concealing details of Prince Charles’s lobbying campaigns. Grieve last year vetoed the disclosure of a set of “particularly frank” letters written by the prince to government ministers.
On Wednesday, the Guardian launched a lawsuit to overturn the veto after gaining permission from the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, and two senior judges. The legal action to see the royal letters is the first of its kind to be mounted.
Opening the two-day case at the high court, Dinah Rose, QC for the Guardian, said Grieve’s use of the veto was fundamentally flawed and legally unjustified. The judicial review is the latest round in an eight-year battle by the newspaper to gain access to the prince’s letters to politicians. His letters have been dubbed “black spider memos” because of the prince’s handwriting. Read more
Rob Evans | The Guardian | 9th May 2013
Last year, universities reported 106,698 cases where they suspected a foreign student was misusing their visa but only 153 ended in the suspect being deported. Of the 106,000 reported cases, the UK Border Agency only investigated 658 individuals, it was found.
The figures, released under a Freedom of Information request, come following Home Office pressure to clamp down on bogus students entering Britain.
In December, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced that consular staff would interview more than 100,000 prospective students in an attempt to prevent fake applicants entering the country. Read more
Amy Willis | The Telegraph | 7th May 2013
A free, confidential hotline for NHS whistleblowers has not been promoted well enough, it has been claimed. Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said staff “don’t seem to be aware” of the number.
Her claim came after a Scottish Labour freedom of information request found just 16 NHS whistle blowers had come forward in the past five years. Ministers said the hotline had been well promoted and they “expected health boards to listen to staff”.
Ms Baillie said she welcomed the phone number – 0800 008 6112 – being established, but she believed the government needed to do more to make sure its policy was effective. Read more
BBC | 8th May 2013
WASHINGTON – A group of bankers that advises the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors has warned that farmland prices are inflating “a bubble” and growth in student-loan debt has “parallels to the housing crisis.”
The concerns of the Federal Advisory Council, made up of 12 bankers who meet quarterly to advise the Fed, are outlined in meeting minutes obtained by Bloomberg through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Their alarm adds to a debate on the Federal Open Market Committee about whether the benefits from their monthly purchases of $85 billion in bonds outweigh the risk of financial instability. Read more
Joshua Zumbrun & Craig Torres | Bloomberg News | 7th May 2013
The police are dealing with as many as one in eight violent offences, including knife crimes and domestic violence, by getting the offender to apologise to the victim rather than prosecuting them in court, according to House of Commons research.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, says that Freedom of Information Act requests show a steep rise in the number of serious crimes being dealt with by community resolution methods, such as restorative justice, since a 20% cut in Whitehall grants to the police began to bite in 2010.
The House of Commons library figures show that up to 14% of recorded violent offences are being dealt with in this way by some forces instead of being prosecuted in the courts. The number of cases has risen from 13,420 in 2009 to 22,733 in 2010 and reached 33,673 last year. The 2012 figures include 10,160 offences involving serious injury being dealt with in this way. Read more
Alan Travis | The Guardian | 30th April 2013
The UK pays almost £1billion a year to cover the healthcare costs of Britons who fall ill on the continent – but receives only a fraction of that for NHS treatment of European visitors. Official figures show that last year taxpayers handed £903.4million to European governments and insurance providers to pay for the care of Britons.
But the NHS managed to collect only £48.7million from the same European countries to pay for the care of their citizens who fall ill here. It means that for every £18 the UK sends to Europe to pay for healthcare, it gets only £1 back.
The figures underline how ineffective NHS hospitals are at clawing back money they are owed compared with those in Europe, amid claims that ‘health tourism’ costs British taxpayers billions a year. Many NHS trusts do not even keep records of debt. Read more
Daniel Martin | The Daily Mail | 29th April 2013
Finance Wales has responded to criticism that the amount it invests into small businesses has fallen since 2009 by saying its investments have actually risen within the last year.
Plaid Cymru said that a Freedom of Information request by one of its AMs revealed that in its last financial year 2012-13, investment by Finance Wales was nearly £10m less than three years before.
The party said the funding figures released by Finance Wales highlight the need for a Welsh Government-owned Bank of Wales to be established. Read more
Chris Kelsey | Wales Online | 29th April 2013
Bradford Bulls is one of only three businesses in the city to be given a commercial loan from Bradford Council, which confirmed it has lent companies more than £6 million of taxpayers’ money over the last four years.
Responding to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the authority confirmed it had negotiated commercial loans with a total of £6.35 million with three firms in the district between 2009 and 2013, with interest rates of between 2.5 per cent and 22.2 per cent.
It refused to reveal the amount of each individual loan, or who it had been made to, but the Telegraph & Argus last month reported how the Bulls had been granted a £200,000 commercial loan, which must be paid back with interest. Read more
Bradford Telegraph and Argus | 29th April 2013
Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns yesterday’s decision by Iraq’s Media and Communications Commission to suspend the licences of 10 foreign-based satellite TV channels for “inciting violence and sectarianism.”
“This draconian and disproportionate decision has seriously endangered freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Although the media must act responsibly, they are just doing their job when they cover Iraq’s current serious divisions and tension. ”
“We urge the Media and Communications Commission to quickly rescind this decision and to allow the media to cover all developments of general interest throughout the country.” Read more
Reporters Without Borders | 29th April 2013
Jesper Tynell, Oluf Jørgensen, Pernille Boye Koch and Lars Rugaard are a few of the impressive list of academics, politicians and award-winning journalists who tenaciously oppose the new freedom of information act,offentlighedsloven, presented by the government.
Their biggest and most valid arguments have been that the new law, especially sections 24 and 27, would create a political vacuum where no one, journalists or otherwise, could control whether public officials and politicians were doing their job well enough, telling the truth, withholding vital information or abusing their power.
The main theme in the new freedom of information act is the political argument based (so the government says) on the idea that officials need to be able to work with the government without being disturbed by the media. Read more
Gertrud Christensen | The Copenhagen Post | 29th April 2013
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s legal for a state to limit use of its Freedom of Information Act to its own residents.
The court unanimously upheld a federal appeals court decision validating Virginia’s limitation of its FOIA law to state citizens and some media outlets.
In the case before the court, Rhode Island resident Mark J. McBurney and California resident Roger W. Hurlbert were suing Virginia for blocking them from getting public documents in Virginia that in-state citizens could have easily obtained. Virginia’s FOIA law limits access to state citizens and some media outlets. Read more
The Washington Post | 29th April 2013
Under the proposals, being introduced this summer, anyone looking to bring a claim for unfair dismissal will have to pay a £250 fee to make the claim and a further £950 if the case reaches court. Previously it was free to make a claim. Payouts for successful claims will also be capped at one year’s salary or £74,200, whichever is lower, as part of a raft of measures aimed at making it easier for firms to dismiss underperforming staff.
The Government said last year it would make it harder for former workers to bring unfair dismissal claims against their employers, in an attempt to free the overburdened tribunal system from “spurious” claims that have little or no chance of succeeding.
But the latest figures reveal a substantial increase in the number of claims. Some 15,300 claims were made in the quarter to September 2012, compared to 10,600 in the three months to June, statistics from the Tribunals Service reveal. Employment law firm EMW, which obtained the figures under Freedom of Information law, said sacked employees have “rushed” to bring a claim before the changes take effect. Read more
Louisa Peacock | The Telegraph | 15th April 2013
A BBC investigation has revealed that some NHS trusts are not informing the GMC of medical staff who have made errors – even where some doctors have made repeated errors which endangered patient safety.
Responding to a freedom of information (FOI) request made to 163 NHS hospital trusts by BBC Radio 5 live Investigates, 13 said they had failed to inform the GMC about at least one doctor whose actions had resulted in more than one compensation payout, in the last five years. And at around half of those trusts, some doctors had moved to other NHS trusts which were not told about the previous complaints.
Several hospital trusts said they had compensated patients following repeated allegations made against a doctor, but had not referred the incidents to the GMC. Some doctors have been involved in up to six unreported incidents. Read more
Mark Gould | OnMedica | 15th April 2013
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, says there is no ‘solid reason’ for regulator’s decision not to fully comply with request made by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act The Charity Commission has refused to release its correspondence with the charity the Cup Trust in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The commission was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee in March for not taking action against the Cup Trust, which turned over £176m in two years but gave only £55,000 to good causes and was accused of being a tax-avoidance mechanism.
The Times newspaper submitted an FOI request to the commission asking it to disclose details of its correspondence with the Cup Trust about tax avoidance. Read more
Abi Rimmer | Third Sector Online | 15th April 2013
The South Australian Government said it would make available more government-held information, some of it without the need for Freedom of Information (FoI) applications.
Premier Jay Weatherill also said the public would now have possible access to Cabinet documents between 10 and 20 years old through Freedom of Information, the policy replacing a 10-year rule.
“FoIs are not processed by Government, they’re processed by independent FoI officers according to law so we don’t get involved in that process,” he said. The Premier said the Government was striving for openness and accountability by making more information available. Read more
ABC News | 15th April 2013
When a former stem cell researcher at the Joslin Diabetes Center was found to have committed scientific misconduct last year, the report on her wrongdoing was brief and succinct. An investigation had revealed that Shane Mayack reused images from unrelated experiments in two scientific papers, according to a note government authorities published in the Federal Register in August.
The full report of the internal Harvard Medical School investigation on which the federal authorities based their finding has now been released to the Globe through a Freedom of Information Act request.
It provides deeper insight into how this particular case of misconduct was detected and gives a sense of how the highly secretive investigations of serious, potentially career-ending allegations unfurl. Read more
Trainee doctors are being paid more than £2,000 a day for locum shifts in NHS hospitals as the bill for agency staff spirals out of control, a Telegraph investigation has found.
Ministers warned NHS managers to “get a grip” on the problem, saying that some hospitals were now relying on unacceptably high levels of temporary staff. In some cases doctors were being paid rates of £15,000 a week – the equivalent to a doctor earning an annual salary of more than £700,000.
Senior managers at hospitals spending more than £2,000 a day on medical staff admitted that costs were “spiralling out of control” and sums paid had become “ridiculous”. Our investigation discloses how hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent paying doctors via agencies, which take a cut of the payments. Read more
Laura Donnelly | The Telegraph | 8th April 2013
SCOTLAND’S new single police force is under pressure to publish hidden payments to victims of wrongful arrest after MSPs demanded action. They urged the new body to come clean about the public money being paid out in response to complaints of police errors, by regularly publishing all future compensation payouts.
The Sunday Herald has had to use Freedom of Information legislation to establish that £70,000 was paid by police in 34 successful claims of wrongful arrest between 2008 and 2012. These payments are never normally disclosed and crucial details of the cases remain secret.
Margo Macdonald, Independent MSP for Lothians, said: “It would be an excellent statement of intention and a defining statement as regards the attitude of the new single force if it said it would consider regularly publishing all compensation payments.
“The important thing is it is open and accessible to the general public. That way we’ll see how much money is involved, what sort of wrongful arrest it was and what sort of misdemeanours were committed.” Read more
Ben Riley-Smith | Herald Scotland | 7th April 2013
THE tobacco giant JTI is preparing to challenge the Scottish Government’s plain cigarette packets plans in an advertising campaign next week. It will reveal correspondence, obtained through Freedom of Information, from the Department of Health in which officials state there is no hard evidence to suggest the change will cut smoking levels.
SNP health minister Michael Matheson announced last week that Scotland would be the first part of the UK to introduce plain packaging and insisted this was based on “available evidence”. Scottish Government officials say the Public Health Research Consortium has found the plans will reduce attractiveness and stop youngsters taking up the habit.
The FOI correspondence, which has been seen by The Scotsman but cannot yet be published, will be part of an advertising campaign and dates from 2011. Read more
The Scotsman | 5th April 2013
Hospitals are seeking a radical increase in revenue from the treatment of private patients as their budgets come under pressure from the needs of an ageing population, according to new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Great Ormond Street children’s hospital has budgeted for an extra £11m from treating private patients in the financial year ending in 2013 compared with 2010 – a 34% increase. The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is also expecting to boost revenues by £9m over the same period – a 42% rise.
The Royal Marsden is expecting an extra 28% increase on 2010 revenues, equating to about £12.7m. Across all trusts an 8% increase in revenues from private patients is expected to be posted for 2012-13 compared with 2010-11. Read more
Daniel Boffey | The Observer | 6th April 2013
Schools are paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to pupils involved in classroom accidents, figures show. Families in Lancashire have been awarded almost £800,000 over the past five years after they sued over falls, slips, fingers trapped in doors and other mishaps.
Campaigners have hit out at this growing compensation culture, warning the spiralling council payouts mean less money is spent on education. The figures come a month after it emerged that compensation for teachers injured at work broke through the £30million barrier for the first time in 2012.
A request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed there were 100 successful claims for injuries sustained by pupils on Lancashire school property between 2006-7 and 2011-12. The resulting payouts added up to £783,831. Read more
Sarah Harris | Daily Mail | 6th April 2013
More than 400 wanted criminals, including murderers, paedophiles and rapists, have been at large in Britain for more than five years. The dangerous offenders should have been returned to prison after committing fresh crimes or breaking the rules of their early release.
But they have evaded the police and are instead walking the streets. Critics said the criminals posed a ‘tremendous risk’ to the public. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that 413 offenders ‘unlawfully at large’ at the end of last year had been wanted for more than five years. Read more
Jack Doyle | Daily Mail | 7th April 2013
West Mercia Police spent £127,018, according to figures released through the Freedom of Information Act. In Staffordshire, police spent £305,260 and in the West Midlands £850,976, creating a combined bill of £1,283,254.
Senior police officers today defended the bill, saying informants are sometimes the only means to crack down on serious organised crime and terrorism. They say there are strict controls, laid out in law, on payments to such sources.
Sarah Buxton, spokeswoman for West Mercia Police, said: “Informants play a vital part in bringing offenders to justice and are a valuable source of intelligence. “They often help to speed up an investigation, resulting in significant cost and time savings, which can then be passed on to the communities West Mercia Police serves.
Shropshire Star | 8th April 2013
Midland County has denied a Freedom of Information Act request from the Midland Daily News for a report of an investigation of Chief District Court Judge John H. Hart. While the report was not released, a statement from the Midland County judiciary gives more details about the case.
The Daily News was attempting to gain copies of a report composed in the summer of 2012 after allegations of sexual harassment against Hart surfaced. The Daily News mailed the Freedom of Information Act request on March 14 to Midland County Administrator/Controller Bridgette Gransden.
Friday, Smith contacted the paper to advise the request was being denied. “Your request is denied, for the reason that the information requested is not the record of a public body as defined in Sec. 15.232, because it is a record of the judiciary (MCL 15.232(v)) and in addition the document requested contains privileged information exempt from release pursuant to 15.243(1)(8) of the Freedom of Information Act,” the denial letter states.
An attempt to reach Hart for comment was unsuccessful. Read more
Kelly Dame | Midland Daily News | 7th April 2013
PAKISTAN: Freedom of Information law: Senate body orders Ministry to table the draft
Senate’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on Friday issued directives to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to table the draft of Freedom of Information law before the committee within 15 days. The directive was issued during the committee meeting chaired by Kamil Ali Agha at the Parliament House while examining the proposed code of conduct of Pakistan Electronic Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
The committee was informed that the draft of the law had been finalised and presented to the former information minister for approval. The committee hoped the caretaker minister, being himself a journalist, will play his role for early enactment of freedom of information law. Chairman Pemra Chaudhry Rashid Ahmed presented the details of the draft prepared by Pemra and the code of conduct issued by Election Commission regarding election coverage. Read more
Business recorder | 6th April 2013
There’s no love lost between the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state’s largest cattle organization spoke out again on Friday about its latest source of disenchantment with the federal watchdog agency.
The group is unhappy about an EPA decision to release what the Cattlemen describe as personal data about members — including specific locations of feedlots and names, addresses and phone numbers, to so-called activist organizations in response to a freedom of information request.
Kristen Hassebrook, director of natural resources and environmental affairs for the livestock group, said what the EPA provided amounts to “a one-stop shopping database” for organizations that might represent a security threat. Read more
Art Hovey | Columbus Telegram | 5th April 2013
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
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.
Peter Sayer | Computer World | 2nd April 2013
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
Foreign patients who seek private treatment in the UK provide a good source of income for the NHS, say experts.
International patients can generate a third of the income trusts earn from private patients.
That is despite most hospitals treating only a small number, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of York found.
Freedom of information requests to 28 hospitals found that a small number of foreign private-paying patients were responsible for 35% of private income in those trusts.
The authors wrote in the British Medical Journal: “This indicates that private foreign patients may be more lucrative than UK patients treated privately within the NHS.” Read more.
Daily Star | 13th February 2013
They were the 12 towns that the Government boasted would be in the “the vanguard of a revolution” to revive the UK’s battered high streets, with Mary Portas, the retail expert and TV personality, parachuted in to lead the initiative.
But The Independent can reveal that the so-called “Portas Pilots” have spent just 12 per cent of the £1.2m awarded in May, indicating that progress has been painfully slow.
Worse still, certain councils and their “town team” appear to have squandered chunks of the £100,000 they were given on seemingly wasteful items, such as £1,600 on a Peppa Pig costume, nearly £1,000 on postage, according to Freedom of Information Requests seen by The Independent.
The retail expert Paul Turner-Mitchell, who submitted the FOI requests, said it demonstrated the majority of councils were not capable of delivering the dynamic change needed to revive UK high streets. Mr Turner-Mitchell, a director of Rochdale-based retailer 25 Ten Boutique, said: “It’s disappointing that, given this unique opportunity to try something different, many councils have wasted funding on the usual bureaucracy of meetings, expense claims and consultants.” Read more.
James Thompson | The Independent | 13th 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
Hospitals have lost more than 2,300 nurses since David Cameron came to power, a new study reveals.
The shocking figure adds to fears that patients’ lives are at risk and come days before the report into the Mid-Staffordshire neglect scandal comes out.
A key factor in the deaths at Stafford Hospital was a nursing shortage, say Whitehall sources.
In August 2012, there were 166,604 nurses in vital jobs such as A&E units at hospitals – 2,306 fewer than in May 2010. The figures, obtained under freedom of information rules, are a blow to the PM’s claims that he would not axe key NHS staff. Read more.
Vincent Moss | The Mirror | 3rd February 2013
New government plans to change the way Freedom of Information requests are costed have been criticised by regional press industry leaders.
Currently councils and other public authorities cost each request individually, but under the proposed changes, they would be able to group together the cost of requests from indidviduals or groups – including journalists working for the same newspaper.
This means that more requests are likely to refused on the grounds of cost.
The Newspaper Society and the Campaign for Freedom of Information have protested against the plans, claiming the changes would hit regional newspapers and MPs hardest. Read more.
Charlotte Cross | Hold the Front Page | 1st February 2013
Senior civil servants responsible for ensuring the building of the UK’s new fleet of nuclear power stations have been extensively wined and dined by nuclear industry lobbyists, documents released under freedom of information reveal.
A hospitality register (.zip) released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) show that the three most senior officials at the Office for Nuclear Development (OND) have received hospitality from nuclear industry representatives on dozens of occasions since the office’s formation in September 2009. Many of the meetings have taken place at some of London’s most luxurious restaurants, hotels and private members’ clubs.
Mark Higson, the OND’s chief executive, received his first hospitality in the role just a few weeks after the office’s creation with a dinner at the Lancaster hotel in Kensington hosted by Westinghouse, the US nuclear plant construction company, and the Nuclear Industry Association. In the intervening period up to last month, Higson and his colleagues Hergen Haye and Stephen de Souza separately accepted hospitality from a range of companies with a vested interest in the nuclear industry, including Babcock,EDF, Areva, and GE Hitachi, as well as a range of industry consultants and trade associations. Read more.
Leo Hickman | The Guardian | 28th November 2012
Mental health services in England are failing thousands of people in crisis every year, because they are understaffed, under resourced, and overstretched, says the charity MIND.
The charity bases its conclusions on three separate pieces of research: Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to mental health trusts; a service user survey of almost 1000 people; and preliminary research by University College London.
The findings show that four out of 10 mental health trusts (41%) in England have staffing levels that are well below established benchmarks, and access to crisis care varies widely.
One in 10 crisis teams still fails to operate services 24/7, despite recommendations by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Read more.
Carole White | On Medica | 28 November 2012
Private companies are draining millions of pounds a year from the NHS in car parking fees, according to a new investigation.
Trusts rely heavily on private companies to run their car parks but five big hospitals have admitted that none of the money made goes back into the NHS.
The BBC’s Watchdog Daily programme found that from 152 responses to a freedom of information request, 126 have car parks that charge for parking and a massive £106m was made from parking fees paid patients, visitors and staff in the last year. Read more.
Morning Star | 28th November 2012