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Freedom Of Information. Vexatious Requests.


WirralPC
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Favourite subject of mine this one.

 

Here's a recent news story concerning the Press Gazette and its approaches to the Metropolitan Police on the subject of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) and the extent to which these powers have been used to spy on journalists.

 

Where do investigative journalists stand when coming up against what could be an abuse of the Act?

Are the police at fault?

Are the defences of 'feeling annoyed' and 'having your processes disrupted' sound reasons to hold onto this information?

Where does the public interest stand? (Nowhere.  Because it's not relevant under Section 14 / Vexatious Requests - whoops!)

Perhaps the problem lies with the way the law is phrased?

 

The Act allows the Met Police to put up another exemption if this one's overturned, or if they want to withdraw it.

 

However, my mind is pretty much made up where certain organisations are concerned.

 

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/vexatious-annoying-and-disruptive-press-gazette-barred-met-asking-more-ripa-questions

 

 

 

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Whilst I agree with Flamboyant to some degree, there are some people that will continue to request, demand, argue etc even after they have had their original query answered in a fair and correct manner.

But...  Because they didn't like the answer they were given, they are not prepared to accept it, and will request, demand, argue etc again, but with more intensity and more feeling of being denied their version of the truth.

And so it begins again.

It's not always the people being asked that are the awkward part of the exchange.

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You're right Clarkester, to a very limited degree.

 

However some data controllers have dirty washing they don't want being aired in public, one of which will be The Metropolitan Police.  And they will use whatever methods are available to keep the information hidden, even if this risks bringing statutory Acts of Parliament into disrepute.

 

When this happens, determined requesters, whistleblowers, complainants, etc. who KNOW and have experienced malpractice or abuse risk looking like the people you've described above (requesting, demanding, arguing with more intensity) because despite their determination, they've received either nothing, evasive drivel, or an unjustified exemption has been engaged.

 

As far as councils go, two names to Google are Bill Norman and David Garry (former senior officers at Wirral Council).  The 'vexatious' drawbridge was pulled all the way up THREE TIMES in response to requests featuring their names, along with 'compromise agreements'.

 

https://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/freedom-of-information-how-to-refute-a-vexatious-request-rebuttal-by-a-data-controller/ 

 

Bill Norman (now head of law at Herefordshire County) was suspended and facing disciplinary charges, but got off on a technicality courtesy of a whitewashing of him and three suspended colleagues.

 

David Garry (head of internal audit at Wirral) was heavily involved in shenanigans with many missing £millions regarding central government grant money.  (Google BIG Fund, ISUS, and whistleblower Nigel Hobro.)

 

So, the policy seems to be, when we've been up to no good, and some meddlesome busybody wants to expose us, reach for Section 14 / Vexatious and make it look like the requester is the one who has a problem.

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A couple of years ago an FoI request was made to Herefordshire Council for a particular piece of documentary information.  HC said it didn't exist.  The applicant asked again, claiming that it must exist.  HC's legal department gave a very tetchy and aggressive response insisting that it did not exist (apparently acting on information from a director).  The applicant contacted individuals within the council directly (not the director) who should have had the information if they had been doing their jobs properly.   The information appeared!  Those individuals had clearly not been asked for the information because the director didn't want the information `out there`.  The applicant received a half hearted apology from the legal department saying they had been wrongly advised (but they would not confirm by whom).   So one person's `vexatious request' can be another person's persistence in getting to the truth.

 

See also the `What do they know' request from a couple of years ago about Common Purpose training of HC managers for another example.  Again, the legal department couldn't /wouldn't say who had provided the wrong information to them.

 

If we could always trust the first response, then yes, further similar and repeat requests are vexatious.  But they have to earn that trust and they most certainly haven't done so. 

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Very well explained Gdj. It's this very reason why the liar Blair once said, ' the only regret I have is bringing forward legislation called the Freedom Of Information Act'. He went on, 'with hindsight this was my biggest personal mistake'.

The fact that this lying, tap dancing devil of man considered FOI to be his only mistake tells me that this was a wonderful error on his part and I thank Jehovah he made it.

If I could be bothered, I'd send a request every single hour of the day. Because I've become bloody lazy I now much prefer to buy a source a pint and get them to tell me what they know.

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Clarkester Point taken absolutely agree. GDJ excellently put, I could do with you to proof read my ham fisted attempts.. I am one of those people who will not accept lies and misleading information and I will not stop till I get to the truth! Am I vexaticious? Some would say so. This topic came up once before and I used a rather weak analogy, black and white, I like GDJ's much better.

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I agree with the principle of the FOI Act but also understand Sir Ian Blair's regret which I think stems from it's practical effect. Until fairly recently I worked in an organisation covered by the Act and my wife still does. Both of us were in roles that required us to respond to FOI requests.

 

In my experience, many of the requests were either impossible to answer due to lack of information or the time it would take to collate it, some sought opinions rather than information, some were political issues to which our organisation didn't know the answer and others we could not answer because it would reveal commercial information to our competitors or other organisations. I would say that the number we could answer  in a straightforward way were in the minority and even then I often sensed the requester did not really understand what he was asking and would misinterpret the response.  

 

There were many occasions where I was able to follow up our response by seeing it related on some website or other. Requests we were unable to meet were frequently characterised as us having something to hide and answers we did provide were often used out of context or misinterpreted. And I did have my share of people that ultimately we had to classify as vexatious simply because they would take "no" or even our answer, for an answer.

 

As I said on another thread, there is of course a risk that the vexatious complainant process can be used to stifle genuine enquiries but I think we also have to allow that increasingly people are inclined to see conspiracy and corruption behind every issue and will not accept any answer that doesn't confirm it.

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Hi Stilton.  Good to have a professional onboard who's worked in an official capacity on FOI.

 

Being up to speed on it, you'll be fully aware that it's up to the data controller to serve their public correctly by proactively putting out enough explanatory information on FOI for public consumption; by using a prior publication scheme for commonly asked questions; by issuing datasets as part of this; by linking to central government's Open Data initiative and transparency agenda...  and much more...

 

If you're up to speed on all this it reduces duplication, assists the general public in phrasing their requests properly, builds public confidence that you're competent and reassures them that you can be valued and trusted.

 

If you're not doing this then it creates all the problems you've described very well above.

 

The cause of such problems would rest with the data controller for ignoring their obligations set out in ICO guidance.  They'd be responsible for bringing problems to their own door, rather than Joe Public :)

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