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Decisions, decisions

Martin Rosenbaum | 17:09 UK time, Monday, 20 August 2007

Last month I analysed which reasons for keeping information secret are most often upheld by the Information Commissioner, based on his office's database of their decisions.

It is also possible to use this database to look at which public authorities have most frequently had cases against them upheld by the Commissioner.

The authority with the most adverse decisions against it is the Home Office, which has had complaints against it upheld (wholly or partly) by the Commissioner in 15 cases.

The Home Office is followed by the Cabinet Office and the House of Commons, both of whom have had 11 complaints against them wholly or partly upheld.

I should note that the BBC of course has also suffered a number of advese decisions, amounting to seven. But the most noticeable thing about the BBC's record is that it also has a particularly high number of cases (ten) where the Commissioner has rejected complaints. It seems in fact that the Commissioner has dismissed more complaints against the BBC than against any other authority.

(As last month, I stress that this is a fairly crude analysis. For a start, it doesn't reflect the seriousness of those breaches of the law which the Commissioner has found, nor his changing priorities affecting in which cases he issues formal decision notices).

Incidentally the search tool on the Commissioner's site which has been used to make these calculations leaves something to be desired, to put it mildly. The listing of public authorities contains numerous duplicates and discrepancies.

For example, it features not only the Department of Trade and Industry but another department seemingly named the Department for Trade and Industry; it lists two apparently different police forces called the North Yorkshire Constabulary and the North Yorkshire Police; and even when it comes to the appeals the Commissioner has decided on in relation to his own office, the list distinguishes between one public authority entitled 'Information Commissioner' and another entitled 'The Information Commissioner'.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 07:26 PM on 20 Aug 2007,
  • IanP wrote:

Which only goes to highlight another reason why ID Cards will not work.

Fred Bloggs
Fred E. Bloggs
Bloggs Fred

etc etc etc......multiplied by 60 million.

  • 2.
  • At 12:10 AM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • PC wrote:

RE: prev comment (1)
Doesn't go to show why ID Cards won't work at all. They pretty obviously have not given the programming side of the site as much attention as they would a national database, which, by the way, we already have.

ID Cards would be a collective of individual information accessible at different levels dependant on authority and reason for access. It will be built on existing databases which will receive far more finance and attention than a project such as this blog has highlighted.

ID cards will make law enforcement undoubtedly easier, as well as combat fraud, while protecting civil liberties for being as indecipherable as a license plate or passport number. Time we joined the 21st century, as well as being in a manifesto elected for twice.

  • 3.
  • At 10:14 AM on 28 Nov 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

I also browse the ICO's decision notices quite often, usually looking for trends, or specific guidance on a particular issue.

One thing I have noticed over the months is the number of decision notice summaries that are totally inaccurate. The errors usually occur in the "Section of Act/EIR & Finding" part of the summary. For example, take a recent notice, issued 19t November (case ref. FS50094592). The end of the summary states "The Commissioner’s decision is that the exemption in section 41 is not engaged. He has also decided that section 43 is not engaged and that the information requested should therefore be released. ". So, in other words, the complaint in respect of the application of s41 and s43 were upheld. Immediately below this, the "Section of Act/EIR & Finding" part says "FOI 41 – Complaint not upheld, FOI 43 – Complaint not upheld". So that'd be wrong then.

As I mentioned above, this is not an isolated case, and these anomalies crop up fairly often.

Given how long it takes the Commissioner to eventually reach a decision, it's quite embarrassing for him to then publish a 30-second summary that is grossly inaccurate. Not only that, but it can be a PITA* for people like me who use the decision summaries to try and locate relevant cases for research or guidance etc. etc.

*ask your teenage child if you don't understand this

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