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Brian Pennington

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Freedom of information legislation

The Freedom of Information Act. Power to the people or a tool for busy bodies?

The Palace of Westminster at night as seen fro...

I understood the Freedom of Information Act was a mechanism for me to check what activities my government was doing under my name.

Then I came across a link containing the requests received by the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) during 2011 and I realised the FOIA has been hijacked by people who seem to be obsessed with the costs of wigs and whether there are any rats in the House of Commons – please insert joke here.

The entire list of 2011 requests is below and whilst they are not all concerned with trivia far too many are, so I decided to see if it was my translation of the FOIA that was wrong and tracked down the definition on the Parliament web site:

“Members of the public have a right to request access to information held by public authorities. The House of Commons and the House of Lords are separate public authorities. Requests for access to information should be directed to the relevant House which may hold the requested information.”

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) The House of Commons and the House of Lords are required under the Freedom of Information Act to make information that they hold available to the public.

1. Information must be made available proactively via publication schemes that have been approved by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

2. Anyone is entitled to make a request for access to information held by either House that is not already publicly available. The requested information must be disclosed unless an exemption applies.

  • General information on the Freedom of Information Act •
  • Specific information regarding the House of Commons and the Freedom of Information Act
  • Specific information regarding the House of Lords and the Freedom of Information Act “

This means I am wrong, anyone can request information about anything no matter how trivial and no matter how costly gather and produce the information was.

Form the 2011 list there are potentially two dozen examples I would consider trivial or not worth the tax payers money to find out, for example

  • How much is spent on water and what brands are used. This disclosure is here.
  • Instances when pest control services have been requested. One of the several disclosures can be found here.
  • Details of expenditure on language courses. Surely avoiding the usual British thing of pointing and shouting is a good thing if we want our representatives to communicate with our European neighbours. This disclosure is here.

Some items were of interest:

  • On average 13o knives a year are confiscated from staff and visitors to Parliament. This  disclosure is here.
  • MPs who have not paid in full the money that the Legg report said they had to repay. This disclosure is here.

It is almost 50/50, in my opinion, between questions of merit with real public benefit and questions that only affect those with nosy habits or vested interests.

But see for yourself by reading the full list of FOIA Requests for 2011 below, newest first.

FOIA Disclosures October – December 2011 up to 23rd November 2011

  • Banqueting 2010-2011. Details of event and function bookings made by Members on behalf of outside organisations.
  • Claims of Racial Discrimination against the House of Commons administratio.n Details of racial discrimination cases brought against the House of Commons.
  • Details of 14 Tothill Street. Accommodation details of the parliamentary property at 14 Tothill Street
  • Grievances filed against the House of Commons administration by its staff. Details of grievances filed against the House of Commons since 2009.
  • Information about MyUK. Details of the MyUK online learning resource.
  • Items confiscated from staff and the public visiting the House of Commons. A list of items confiscated from members of staff and the public visiting the House of Commons from January 2009 to September 2011.
  • Management Board Papers 2007-2011. All agendas, minutes and related papers of the House of Commons Management Board.
  • Proposed building works on Cromwell Green and Speaker’s Green. Details of proposed building works on Cromwell Green and Speaker’s Green.
  • Select Committee expenses 2010-2011. Details of Select Committee expenses for 2010-2011
  • The amount paid by the House of Commons in relation to employment disputes with MPs staff. Total amount paid by the House of Commons in relation to employment disputes with MPs staff for the last 5 years.

Below is the list of FOI disclosures published by the House of Commons between July and September 2011:

  • Bars in the House of Commons. Details of bars within the House of Commons and their operating costs.
  • Compensation for criminal activity or personal injury. The cost of compensation paid to any victims of a criminal act or personal injury on the Parliamentary estate.
  • Compensation for criminal activity or personal injury. Compensation paid to staff and members of the public due to criminal activity or personal injury on the parliamentary estate.
  • Details of language classes provided to MPs and Parliamentary officials. Language classes provided to MPs and Parliamentary officials.
  • Details Of Mr Speaker Bercow’s official events since taking office. All official events held by Mr Speaker Bercow.
  • Details of spending on procurement cards issued to House of Commons’ staff, 2010 – 2011. Details of all spending on the cards for the last calendar year to May 2011
  • Ethnic monitoring in the House of Commons. Ethnic monitoring in the House of Commons
  • Expenditure on ceremonial garments. Details about ceremonial garments and the costs involved.
  • Financial details of parliamentary catering and retail service.s Revenue, profits, costs and subsidies for parliamentary catering and retail services.
  • House of Commons buildings used as office space. Details about House of Commons buildings primarily used as office space.
  • House of Commons post holders earning a basic salary of £65,000 or more to March 2011. House of Commons post holders earning a basic salary of £65,000 or more to March 2011
  • Inflation index used for MPs pensions. Which inflation index was used to determine the increase in MPs pensions.
  • Instances when pest control services have been requested. The number of times that pests have been found on the parliamentary estate.
  • IT equipment issued to Members 2011. Itemised breakdown of IT equipments issued to Members following 2010 election to 1 February 2011
  • Items reported stolen in the House of Commons in 2011. A list of all the items reported stolen in the House of Commons in 2011
  • MPs who have not paid in full in line with the Legg report. MPs who have not paid in full the money that the Legg report said they had to repay.
  • Reports into the leaning of Big Ben clock tower 2011. The effects of the Jubilee line extension on Big Ben clock tower.
  • Rules for MPs use of stationery. The rules for the use of stationery and pre-paid envelopes.
  • Select Committee expenditure on water. Details about the brand used and cost of water used by Select Committees.
  • Taxable benefit of the Speaker’s accommodation. The taxable benefit of the Speaker’s official residence.
  • The cost of recalling Parliament on Thursday August 11 2011. Some of the costs involved in the recall of Parliament on Thursday August 11.
  • The structural soundness of Portcullis House. Reports carried out into the structural soundness of Portcullis House.
  • The use of social networking media. The use of social networking media by MPs.

Below is the list of FOI disclosures published by the House of Commons between April and June 2011:

  • Cost and vintage of wines 2011. The vintage dates and purchase price of wine stocked in the House of Commons
  • Crimes reported 2009-2011. Details of all the crimes reported within the House of Commons from 2009-2011
  • Details about the trees in Portcullis House. Costs and ownership details of the trees in Portcullis House.
  • Duchy of Cornwall. The procedure determining whether the consent of the Duchy of Cornwall needs to be signified to a bill
  • Expenditure of The Clerk of The House 2011. Expenditure which has been made by the House of Commons relating to the Clerk of the House’s travel, subsistence, entertainment in an official capacity, and other professional and miscellaneous costs.
  • Former Members in receipt of an award from the Resettlement Grant. 1 April 2011 Table showing Former Members who left the House of Commons at the 2010 election and who are in receipt of an award from the Resettlement Grant and Former Members who have not been paid Resettlement Grant.
  • Former Members in receipt of an award from the Resettlement Grant. 5 April 2011 Amounts awarded to each former MP from the Resettlement Grant
  • Funding of the W4MP website. Details of the last 5 years of funding for the W4MP website.
  • House of Commons consultancy costs 2010-2011. How much The House of Commons spent on external consultants during the financial year 2010-2011
  • House of Commons recruitment costs 2010-2011. Recruitment costs for The House of Commons during financial year 2010-2011.
  • House of Commons Wine Stocks 2011. The top highest valued wines in the House of Commons stock and the total value.
  • List of wines stocked in the House of Commons wine cellar 2011. A list of all the wines currently stocked by the House of Commons
  • Members’ comments about IPSA. Members Survey of Services Comments on IPSA made by MPs responding to the Members Survey of Services 2010
  • MPs Expenses repayments 2011. List of Members of Parliament’s outstanding expenses repayments
  • Non British Nationals Research Assistants & Interns 2011. Number and nationality of non-British national researchers who have worked at the House of Commons over the last 15 years.
  • Number of security passes lost or stolen 2008-2011. The number of House of Commons security passes that have been lost or stolen.
  • Palace of Westminster – Condition Survey Report 2008-2010. A report on the outcome of a condition survey carried out over the period 2008-10 during which each space in the Palace of Westminster was subject to a visual inspection.
  • Pest control costs 2008-2011. The costs of pest control across the parliamentary estates from 2008-2011
  • Speaker’s accommodation 2011. Updated list of costs incurred to furnish the Speaker’s accommodation in the Palace of Westminster between 2009 and 2011.

Below is the list of FOI disclosures published by the House of Commons between January and March 2011:

  • Catering and retail prices 2011. Copies of restaurant menus, bar tariffs and other catering tariffs, souvenir price list
  • Catering sales and lists containing drink prices 2011. List of drinks, prices and sales in House of Commons bars and cafeterias
  • Details of all crimes reported in the Palace of Westminster 2008-2011. details of all crimes reported in the Palace of Westminster in the past three years
  • House of Commons Management Board official expenditure 2008-2010. an itemised breakdown of expenses claimed by each member of the Management Board for financial years 2008/09 and 2009/10
  • How much has been spent on 14 Tothill Street premises. The total amount spent on 14 Tothill Street until 28 February 2011.
  • Items reported as missing or stolen 2006 -2010 All items and their assumed monetary value which have been reported as missing or stolen from the Parliamentary Estate
  • Items reported stolen or missing from the Parliamentary Estate 2005-2011. A description of each item reported stolen and/or missing to the Crime and Investigation Unit from the Parliamentary estate
  • Lists of former Members of Parliament and Industry and Parliament Trust pass holders 2011. Names of pass holders – Former Members of Parliament and Industry and Parliament Trust as at 24 January 2011
  • Management Board Papers 2007-2011. Minutes, agendas and associated papers of House of Commons Management Board meetings since its establishment in October 2007
  • MPs and Lords replaced IT equipment. It equipment replaced since 2006
  • New Year’s Eve event 2010/11. Details of the New Year’s Eve event held at the House of Commons.
  • Overseas visits by Transport Committee members. Details of overseas visits by members of theTransport Committee from 01 January 2010 until 10 February 2011.
  • Parliamentary IT and Communication systems, office layouts and access Repayments made by Members 2010. The list of repayments of parliamentary allowances made by current and former Members of Parliament which were received between 19 December 2009 and 12th April 2010
  • Speaker’s Office Budget 2008-2011. Details of the Speaker’s Office Budget and Expenditure 2008-2011

The link to all the disclosures can be found here.

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Who fell foul of the Information Commissioner in October?

A week after Calls for tougher penalties for breaches of the Data Protection Act (read my post here) I thought it would be good time to have a look at who the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken action against during the month of October 2011.

To add some consistency I have also included actions taken since the 7th September because a previous posting “Who has the Information Commissioner caught in the last 3 months?”, read it here.

28 October 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Newcastle Youth Offending Team. This follows the theft of an unencrypted laptop containing sensitive personal data. Read my post on this incident here.

27 October 2011
An Undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust. This follows two separate incidents involving the loss of personal data by the Trust.

19 October 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Spectrum Housing Group. This follows a non-secure e-mail with an excel attachment containing personal data relating to employees of the data controller, being sent in error to an unintended recipient outside of the organisation. It was also discovered that data within ‘hidden’ pivot cells forming part of the spreadsheet could be revealed.

17 October 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Dumfries and Galloway Council. This follows the accidental online disclosure of current and former employee’s personal data in response to a Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act request.

5 October 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). This follows theft of a laptop containing sensitive personal data from the home of an employee.

An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Holly Park School. This follows the theft of an unencrypted laptop containing personal data relating to nine pupils.

See my blog on these two incidents Education, education, when will people learn, encrypt your data as two more education establishments lose data here.

4 October 2011
An undertaking has been signed by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust following the accidental destruction of 10,000 archived records. The records – which should have been kept in a dedicated storage area –were put in a disposal room due to lack of space. See my post, Hospital Destroys 10,000 Archived Records here.

An undertaking has also been signed by Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust after two diaries – containing information relating to the care of 240 midwifery patients – were stolen from a nurse’s car. The diaries included patients’ names, addresses and details of previous visits and were used by the nurse during out of hours duty.

20 September 2011
An undertaking to comply with the third and seventh data protection principles has been signed by Eastleigh Borough Council. This follows the potential disclosure of a document containing sensitive personal data.

15 September 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and its parent organisation the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). This follows the discovery that CEOP’s website reporting forms were being transmitted insecurely. See my post on this here ICO takes action against the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the Serious Organised Crime Agency here.

An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust. This follows two separate incidents involving the loss of personal data by the Trust.

14 September 2011
An Undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust. This follows the loss of a CD containing personal data during a move of office premises.

9 September 2011
An undertaking to comply with the seventh data protection principle has been signed by Walsall Council. This follows the accidental disposal of postal vote statements in a skip by the council’s data processor. The council did not have a written agreement with the data processor selected to store this personal data.

see other posts related to the Information Commissioner

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Information Commissioner: Businesses ‘waking up’ to Data Protection responsibilities

Christopher Graham, the UK Information Commiss...
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The Information Commissioner has reported that businesses may be ‘waking up’ to their obligations under the Data Protection Act (DPA) but public confidence in how personal information is being handled continues to decline, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

Figures published show that nearly three quarters of businesses surveyed now know that the DPA requires them to keep personal information secure. This is up 26% on last year’s figure.

Public confidence has fallen with less than half of those surveyed believing organisations process their data in a fair and proper manner. Concern is particularly high in relation to web-based businesses with almost three quarters of individuals believe that online companies are not keeping their details secure.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham said:

“I’m encouraged that the private sector is waking up to its data protection responsibilities, with unprompted awareness of the Act’s principles higher than ever. However, the sector does not seem to be putting its knowledge to good use. The fact is that security breaches in the private sector are on the rise, and public confidence in good information handling is declining. Businesses seem to know what they need to do – now they just need to get on with doing it. It’s not just the threat of a £500,000 fine that should provide the incentive. Companies need to consider the damage that can be done to a brand’s reputation when data is not handled properly. Customers will turn away from brands that let them down.”   

The ICO’s annual track survey looks at information rights issues across the board. Other figures released today show that awareness of citizens’ rights under the Freedom of Information Act is increasing.

    • 90% of public authorities surveyed are aware that individuals have a right to see information.
    • 84% – also agreed that the Act is needed.
    • 24% of respondents were sceptical that the information they’d like to see is actually being made public.
    • Just half of those surveyed are satisfied that information is readily available and accessible.
    • 70% recognise the ICO’s role as the enforcer of the Data Protection Act, the highest awareness level since the question was introduced to the annual survey in 2004.
    • 53% of businesses surveyed now have a clear understanding of the ICO’s role in this area compared with 20% last year, This increase is partly driven by the private sector.
    • 58% more breaches have been reported to the ICO so far in 2011/12 than in the same period last year.
The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham added:

“This survey highlights the increasing importance of accountability and transparency, and the public’s right to know. Almost all public authorities can see the clear benefits of having freedom of information laws. But more needs to be done to make sure that the right information is being made available since only half of citizens surveyed feel they have easy access to the information they want.”

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Information rights should be embedded in schools, says ICO

The importance of data privacy and access to official information should be embedded in the formal education process, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today, as it launched a research project to explore ways of getting information rights issues covered in primary and secondary education systems in the UK.

The research project aims to ensure that young people are aware of the threats to their privacy and how to protect themselves, understanding the practical and legal safeguards that can help them. The project will also explore how young people can be encouraged to exploit the increasing availability of public information to their advantage.

The ICO has already led a number of initiatives aimed at reaching young people including a youth area on its website, a data protection DVD for secondary schools, a presence on online community games website Habbo Hotel, and an annual student brand ambassador campaign. However, expert opinion suggests that these initiatives have only limited chances of success unless the education of information rights becomes a more mainstream component of a young person’s formal education.

Research undertaken as part of law firm Speechly Bircham’s youth data protection campaign ‘i in online’ has found that, of over 4,000 young people questioned, 88% of secondary school respondents and 39% of primary school children have a profile on a social networking site.

Despite this, 60% of respondents hadn’t read the privacy policies of the networking sites they use, 32% didn’t know what a privacy policy was, and 23% said they didn’t know where to find it.

Jonathan Bamford, Head of Strategic Liaison at the ICO, said:

Young people today are growing up in an age where an ever increasing amount of information is held about them. It is vital that they understand their privacy rights and how to exercise them.

“We are also now seeing a big move towards transparency with more official information being released than ever before. The Freedom of Information Act is an important tool in holding decision makers to account. By being aware of their rights to access information, young people will feel more empowered to ask important questions about the things that matter to them – be it about their local leisure centre, or what the government is doing on university tuition fees or the environment.

“While we appreciate that some information rights issues are already covered in specific subjects encompassing IT and law, we want to see a move towards schools embedding information rights issues as part of the mainstream education process – giving young people skills that will serve them well throughout their adult lives.

The ICO is now inviting tenders for a research partner to help examine the current landscape and make recommendations.

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