Posted by Jeff Id on February 18, 2010
On January 27 tAV reported that the ICO had apparently advised UEA officials that it was acceptable to ignore the FOI requests.
Today blogger Kondealer left this post on tAV. Apparently he had filed an official complaint with the ICO on the handling of the freedom of information requests. This in turn was was followed by an official reply. As will all aspects of climate science, fog it appears has again ruled the day. It’s an amazing reply. One thing we know for certain is that the officer who replied– is absolutely not a lawyer. My bold below.
I’m not so much worried about how the data got out, but how both CRU and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) who, by the way are supposed to uphold the F.O.I Act, initially colluded to withhold the data.
I made an official complaint about this and I copy the ICO’s response below.
Please find attached a letter in response to your query regarding the possible provision of advice by the ICO to UEA in relation to information requested regarding its Climatic Research Unit.
I am responding to the enquiry that you made regarding what advice may have been provided by the ICO to the University of East Anglia in relation to its handling of requests for information related to its Climatic Research Unit. This has been looked into and I have outlined below the ICO’s view on this matter.
One of the emails exchanged between IPCC authors and related parties placed in the public domain contains the following sentence:
Keith and Tim are still getting Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests, as are the Meteorological Office Hadley Centre and the University of Reading. All our FOI officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions not to respond-advice they got from the Information Commissioner.
Viewed in isolation, this sentence may have created the false impression that the ICO provided advice to the University of East Anglia encouraging it to withhold information.
The Commissioner does not accept this view and wants to stress that such action would be in direct conflict with the vision, aims, and values of the ICO and would undermine his role as statutory regulator. The ICO would not, in any circumstances, encourage an authority to avoid compliance with the law. To do so would undermine the Commissioner’s role as an impartial regulator and compromise his duty to support the presumption of disclosure implicit within Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).
Both FOI and EIR assume a default position of disclosure in response to requests made to public authorities, and this presumption is the default position adopted by the Commissioner in responding to enquiries and considering complaints. It underpins all of the Commissioner’s work in relation to FOI and EIR and his officer’s would not provide advice encouraging an authority to avoid compliance with the legislation.
It is unclear what the ‘advice’ noted in the email consisted of, or indeed whether the use of exemptions being proposed resulted from contact with the ICO’s staff or interpretation of the ICO’s existing guidance. The Commissioner has a statutory duty to disseminate advice and guidance on the operation of FOI and the EIR. This takes the form of guidance documents, responses to written queries, and telephone contacts (usually through his help line).
Although the Commissioner’s Officers seek to address enquiries as satisfactorily as possible, they only provide general and impartial advice. When responding to queries the ICO gives high level, non-specific guidance on how an authority might consider approaching a request. This can involve directing them to published good practice guidance or to relevant ICO Decision Notices or the findings of the First-Tier Tribunal. The ICO deliberately provides this advice at a general level to minimise the possibility of being drawn into specific discussions about individual requests, as the ICO may subsequently be required to adjudicate on a related complaint.
The written queries are recorded on the ICO’s electronic case management system. Telephone enquiries are more numerous, with over 2,000 per week, and given their volume it is not practical to record the content of each (assuming that the caller consented to identify themselves, which they are under no obligation to do). The ICO has checked its records and can trace two examples of written advice provided to UEA which predate the email in question, but these were on unrelated topics with no bearing on the climate-data issue. If the University had sought verbal advice before then, the ICO would only have provided general advice, and certainly would not have explicitly supported or endorsed the use of a particular exemption or exception.
I hope that this goes someway to explaining the ICO’s position and provides some reassurance on this matter.
I hope to be able to provide you with a response to your other query regarding time limits for criminal prosecutions under the Freedom of Information Act shortly.
Senior Complaints Officer
FOI Team 1
So it appears that the ICO admits that such advice would be in violation of it’s charter, then denies without specific denial the advice given to, specifically referenced and actually followed by Phil Climategate Jones. Since the official ICO wouldn’t have been willing to give advice on the matter, I suppose that it must have been a different commissioners office they were talking with.
Some relevant quotes.
1. Think I’ve managed to persuade UEA to ignore all further FOIA requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit.
Keith/Tim still getting FOI requests as well as MOHC and Reading. All our FOI officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions not to respond – advice they got from the Information Commissioner.
When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions – one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA was all about. Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA (in the registry and in the Environmental Sciences school – the head of school and a few others) became very supportive. I’ve got to know the FOI person quite well and the Chief Librarian – who deals with appeals.
2. You can delete this attachment if you want. Keep this quiet also, but this is the person who is putting in FOI requests for all emails Keith and Tim have written and received re Ch 6 of AR4. We think we’ve found a way around this.
According to the FOI Commissioner’s Office, IPCC is an international organization, so is above any national FOI.