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
Children face being taught in overcrowded classrooms with leaky roofs because of a £3.6 billion “black hole” in the budget for school repairs, according to Labour. Figures suggest that the amount of money set aside to rebuild state schools in England will cover less than a quarter of the real costs.
Data published following a series of Freedom of Information requests suggests that local councils are facing a significant repairs backlog because of budget cuts.
But the Government dismissed the claims as “nonsense” and insisted it was spending more than Labour put aside in its first eight years in power. Read more
Graeme Paton | The Telegraph | 12th April 2013
Three police officers have been sacked for misusing social media over the past five years, figures from Scotland Yard have shown. Allegations linked to the use of sites including Facebook and Twitter have been recorded against 75 Metropolitan Police officers since 2009.
Figures revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Evening Standard showed that 38 of the claims were substantiated. Of these 25 resulted in formal action, including the three officers who were sacked, five who received management advice and 17 who were given a written warning.
The release of the figures follows a furore involving Kent Police where the country’s first youth crime commissioner Paris Brown was forced to resign over offensive Tweets. Read more
Margaret David | The Independent | 11th April 2013
The number of teachers taking time off in one county has rocketed – and the intense stress of tough Ofsted school inspections is being blamed. There has been a 16 per cent rise in days off sick among school staff in Suffolk.
The average number of sick days per teacher rose to 6.45 last year from 5.53 in 2010, according to new figures – the equivalent of every teacher having an extra day off through illness.
The statistics have been released by Suffolk County Council following a Freedom of Information request. They revealed that some 86,138 days were lost to sickness during the last three years – equal to a staggering 441 academic years of teaching time. Read more
News Agencies | The Telegraph | 11th April 2013
The group believes the tax collection agency has run afoul of the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches.
The tax man may have his hand in more than just your pocket. The IRS routinely searches Americans’ emails, sometimes in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union claims.
The ACLU released a trove of documents on its website Wednesday that it obtained from the nation’s tax collection agency through a Freedom of Information Act request. The group says they “reveal that the IRS Criminal Tax Division has long taken the position that the IRS can read your emails without a warrant.” Read more
David Knowles | New York Daily News | 10th April 2013
CONNECTICUT - Openness makes for a safer society, panelists at an annual Freedom of Information Conference concluded Tuesday.
In the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, the issues of transparency in government is a timely topic, Freedom of Information Commission Executive Director Colleen Murphy said to a crowd of town officials from across the state gathered at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station.
Questions whether gun permit records and death certificates should be public created discussion among panelists and audience members, but the overall consensus was that the release of information is crucial to a fully democratic society. Read more
Viktoria Sundqvist | New Haven Register | 10th April 2013
Scotland Yard says it is considering keeping secret a report detailing questions about the conduct and integrity of a police chief who went on to be hired by part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Former Scotland Yard commander Ray Adams was head of UK security for the software company NDS, owned by News Corp, which allegedly cracked the smartcard codes of rival company ONdigital. The codes then appeared on a pirate website. NDS denies any wrongdoing.
The Guardian has formally sought the release of the Operation Russell report under freedom of information legislation. But the Met says it may seek to keep the report secret using an exemption.
Vikram Dodd | The Guardian | 27th April 2012
Freedom of Information requests 2011: how many were there and which were turned down?
The Freedom of Information Act of 2000 is very British Institution – it allows anyone to request data from government departments – and to be entitled to a response.
And today, the latest figures, published by the Ministry of Justice, show that FoI requests are up in the UK – 47,141 in 2011, a 7% increase on 2010. The increase is in requests to central government, but not to monitored quangos.
Simon Rogers | The Guardian | 26th April 2012
Group to appeal after US judge blocks release of dead bin Laden photos
Judicial Watch told FOX News Channel there was “no provision under law to keep documents secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies.”
The group launched the legal bid after asking the CIA and the US Department of Defence to publicly release photographs and footage of the May 2011 raid.
It filed a Freedom of Information Act request the day after the daring operation took place at bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
NewsCore | 27th April 2012
Soaring rate of Kent grammar school offers to private pupils
Nearly 500 children from more than 80 fee-paying independent schools were offered places at grammar schools in Kent this year, according to figures obtained by the KM Group.
In some cases, pupils from private schools accounted for more than a third of the offers while at others, places were offered to pupils at schools in East Sussex, Surrey and London.
The startling figures, revealed for the first time under the Freedom of Information Act, underline the impact schools in the private sector have on the competition for places at some of the county’s highest-performing state schools.
Paul Francis | Kent Online | April 27th 2012
Faults with Terminator mean 26,000 tonnes of rubbish go to landfill
Rubbish weighing as much as an aircraft carrier has been sent to landfill instead of being recycled because of faults with a £42 million waste-shredding machine.
Cambridgeshire County Council has had to cough up £1.45 million extra in landfill tax because the giant machine at AmeyCespa’s Waterbeach site has not been operating at top capacity, the News has discovered.
The mechanical biological treatment plant, dubbed ‘the Terminator’, which is the length of three football pitches, should have been operating at full speed 18 months ago but that is yet to happen.
A Freedom of Information request revealed in that time 26,574 tonnes of rubbish were sent to landfill which could have been recycled if the machine was working at full capacity, the same weight as two-and-a-half Eiffel towers, a small aircraft carrier, or 1,772 guided busway beams.
Chris Havergal | Waste Management World | 27th April 2012
The Metropolitan Police has spent nearly £250,000 on premium-rate call sevices over the past two years, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Press Association.
Scotland Yard officers and officials spent a total of £16,879 calling the speaking clock almost 55,000 times in 2010/11, down from ££18,402 the previous year.
A Scotland Yard spokesman told the BBC: “There are clearly evidential and operational reasons for officers and staff requiring the exact time and contact details.”
Fifteen year old girls biggest group at risk of self-harming
Girls of 15 are the most likely to attempt suicide or self-harm, The Sun has reported. 7,529 children aged 15 or under were admitted to A&E units after self-harming last year, of those 6,413 were girls and that 2,962 of those were aged 15. Lucie Russell, of mental health charity Young-Minds, said: “Self-harm is often dismissed as attention-seeking but it’s a sign young people are feeling terrible internal pain and are not coping.”
Children with shotguns pose no risk, claim campaigners
The Countryside Alliance have used figures from a Freedom of Information request to support their campaign against enforcing a minimum age for shotgun licenses. Figures from 33 police forces in England and Wales show that of the tens of thousands of under-18s who have been issued with a license, only two under 14s have had them revoked by police between 2008 and 2010, BBC reports.
British temping agency bosses are paying their workers through foreign-owned firms to cut costs and dodge tax. Paperwork obtained by the Daily Mirror through the Freedom of Information Act found that one arrangement was reported as “highly suspicious” but the overseas company was given a licence by UK regulators anyway.
Recruitment Solutions Limited boasts that it can increase profits for employment agencies by 10% to 30% and claims to be exempt from national insurance payments by being based abroad. Any savings are shared with the agency and not with workers.
An official at the Gangmasters Licensing Authority left the tick box next to whether RSL was “fit and proper” blank and warned “this could open the floodgates for other companies based outside to make similar applications”.
Another GLA official who approved RSL’s licence agreed there was a “potential breach” with this “highly suspicious” arrangement.
RSL boss Wilhelm Meier has an office address in Hong Kong but his website is registered on the Isle of Man. He told the Daily Mirror that he “complies with all UK laws”.
Unsolved murder cases regularly reviewed
Scotland Yard has published a list of “undetected murders” which shows all unsolved cases are regularly reopened. In response to a Freedom of Information request, it was shown that all 290 unsolved murder cases n Greater London over the past 13 years have been investigated again, the Times reports.
Funding cuts denying NHS fertility treatments
Women are being denied fertility treatment as NHS trusts cut the number of IVF cycles they are willing to fund. A Freedom of Information responses to Pulse magazine from 29 NHS trusts revealed that the average number of IVF cycles provided so far this financial year is down 14 per cent on the whole of last year, the Independent and Telegraph both report.
Deceased Wu-Tang Clan rapper’s FBI file released
The FBI has released a 93-page file on Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard which shows that the rapper was linked to a selection of crimes, the Guardian reports. The report was released in response to a Freedom of Information request by Rich Jones of the Gun.io blog and reveals that Russell Tyrone Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was “heavily involved” in “murder, car-jackings…and the sale of drugs [and] illegal guns” and was arrested more than 15 times.