The Government is appealing at the Information Tribunal the ICO’s ruling that the OGC should release the information, the appeal hearing taking place two years and three months after the original request. If I understand correctly, the case is “HM Treasury v The Information Commissioner EA/2006/0041″.
The story has made it to the press.
The government has attacked its own information watchdog for failing to understand the workings of Whitehall, as it gears up to fight an order to publish confidential reports into the ID cards programme.
The Office of Government Commerce, which is part of HM Treasury, claimed in legal papers that, by ordering the publication of Gateway reviews on identity cards, the information commissioner had unreasonably rejected clear evidence that publication of the project reports would cause “substantial harm”.
The Office of Government Commerce argued in papers submitted to the tribunal that information commissioner Richard Thomas had failed to understand the need for civil servants to be able to offer frank advice to Gateway reviewers without fear that their views could be made public.
The ICO contends (among other things) that civil servants should be frank and honest regardless of whether or not their advice may one day appear in the public domain, which seems reasonable to me.
There seems to be an inequality of arms and conflicts of interest here:
Treasury ministers have given approval for the case to be fought by an external QC, whose costs could be between £20,000 and £50,000. Further fees will be paid to external legal advisers and the OGC has told Computer Weekly it also plans to use the services of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department.
The government holds all the aces. The appeal case will be heard by an information tribunal whose chairman, or deputy chairman, and two lay members are appointed by the government. Even if the tribunal backs the information commissioner and rules that Gateway reviews should be published, ministers have the power in certain circumstances to veto the tribunal’s decision.
The government also controls the flow of money to the OGC and the information commissioner. With a restricted budget and a backlog of work, the information commissioner is unlikely to be able to spare the money to field a team of lawyers or a QC at the tribunal. The OGC, on the other hand, appears to have all the legal funding it needs, with ministers viewing the OGC’s appeal against the commissioner’s decision as a cross-government action.
The apparent inequality is compounded by the budget for the information commissioner’s office being set by the Department for Constitutional Affairs – which has published on its website policy guidelines for departments on how they can, and in some cases should, refuse requests for Gateway reviews to be published.
These Reviews are kept secret even from Parliament. How on earth are our representatives in Parliament supposed to properly scrutinise such projects when they are not allowed access to all the data? Why are our representatives in Parliament not allowed access to the data?
Heather Brooke, the writer of the Your Right to Know blog, has described her experience of standing before the Information Tribunal.
Labour Manifesto, 1997:
We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government.
The Sunday Times:
TAX inspectors are to be given new powers allowing them to tap taxpayers’ telephones and plant bugs inside their homes and offices.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) says its inspectors need such covert surveillance to tackle the growing threat from organised and white-collar crime.
However, lawyers and accountants argue that the move could breach human rights and have condemned ministers for “creeping authoritarianism”.
Read the SpyBlog article.
What can’t ID cards help with?
It is no good for [the Conservative Party] to call for tough action to combat the evils of people trafficking while they oppose the solution: ID cards.
ID cards: ‘the solution’ to people trafficking.
Tackling the evil of people trafficking requires serious action, not vague words. ID cards will help to address this menace; they will boost the fight against illegal immigration and strengthen our borders.
Within a breath, ID cards are downgraded from ‘the solution’ to a ‘help’ and a ‘boost’. Presumably we are intended to find this (and all the ad hominems) credible.
Opposition to ID cards reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the Tory approach: they talk tough but vote soft. How in one breath can you talk of tightening up checks on vulnerable women and children entering the country, yet with the next condemn ID cards, the key measure to protect such people?
Laying it on a bit thick, isn’t he?
But let’s have a look at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate’s Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan (768Kb PDF).
Over 30 million foreign nationals crossed our borders in 2005
Are they are all required to enrol on the National Register (the database behind the cards) on entering the UK?
From 2008, we will make biometric ID compulsory for all foreign nationals coming here for work, study, or to stay for longer than six months [originally intended to be three months], unless they are from the EEA
In other words, if a non-EEA (European Economic Area, 30 countries) foreign national applies to stay longer than six months or work in the UK, he must enrol his details and biometrics (for now just his photograph and 10 fingerprints, if he has them) on the Register. No-one else has to: not if you intend to stay for less than six months, or if you don’t intend to work, or if you intend to lie.
Presumably most trafficked people are female. If I understand correctly, most trafficked women are from Eastern Europe (see paper referred to below: Kelly, Regan 2000) – i.e. from countries that are in the EEA. In addition, apparently (see page 25 of the paper) it is rare for trafficked women to arrive via entirely illegal methods.
How many illegally trafficked people are likely to apply for visas, or tell us they are likely to stay for longer than six months? I would guess at ‘none’, because if they did, they wouldn’t be illegal. So, how will they enrol (or be enrolled) on the Register? Again, they aren’t likely to come into contact with it.
So I really don’t understand how the ID card/e-borders system will protect the majority of trafficked people, because they will never come into contact with it.
It is all very well me moaning about the Government’s proposals, but I just don’t understand the logic in them. Is there any logic at all?
What is my solution to trafficking? Well, I know next to nothing about it – I guess I’m just as qualified as Government Ministers.
Off-street prostitution has traditionally been an area of the sex industry that has been subject to minimal monitoring. As such, the risk of detection for traffickers is low. Equally, it is a difficult area to bring prosecutions – victims are wary of providing evidence for fear of reprisals and through fear of the legal system. When prosecutions have been brought it has been difficult to gain sentences with sufficient deterrent to offset the potential gains for traffickers.
I infer that we should improve monitoring and detection, and increase sentences.
The Toolkit now quotes a paper (245Kb PDF) by Liz Kelly and Linda Regan, entitled ‘Stopping Traffic: Exploring the extent of, and responses to, trafficking in women for sexual exploitation in the UK’. The Toolkit claims “there has only been one official published study on trafficking in the UK”, so have a read and you’ll officially know as much as anyone else.
‘Internationally, and the UK is no exception, trafficking people is a less risky activity for criminals than trafficking in drugs. The maximum sentences in most jurisdictions are seldom as long for people as for drug trafficking. The lower potential costs and higher profits, especially where the traffic is for the purpose of prostitution, have acted as powerful incentives to organised crime, smaller networks and ‘‘enterprising’’ individuals.’
I infer we need to somehow increase costs and decrease profits.
A little moan: I do not know why the Crime Reduction website provides just a reference to “Kelly, Regan 2000″. That is what you traditionally do in papers, but not websites, where it is extremely easy to provide hyperlinks. Incidentally, other papers relating to violence against women can be found on the Home Office RDS website.
Back to the Toolkit:
It has also been suggested by enforcement agencies that the UK is a particularly attractive destination for the traffickers due to the fact that there is no identity card system.
(On the website, this last sentence has a much larger font size (“10″) than the rest of the text (“2″). Think they are trying to tell us something?)
There are no references to support this claim. There is no detail about what agencies have claimed this and how they supported their claims. We are supposed to find this credible.
The Kelly and Regan paper is referred to five times in the section of the Toolkit entitled ‘What do we know about trafficking?’. Presumably this means the Government has some faith in it. It has a section on recommendations, but I can find no mention of identity cards anywhere in the paper at all.
On the other hand, Kelly and Regan make some suggestions that seem reasonable to me (and they at least provide supporting references): increase research, increase monitoring, increase sentences, increase support for the victims, improve police training, improve data collection (separate data on ‘illegal immigration’ and ‘trafficking’), change police policies toward ‘off-street locations’ where most trafficked women are likely to be found, re-prioritise trafficking relative to other crimes (i.e. relatively increase resources).
The paper also claims that many women come voluntarily to the UK because they are promised a better life. This suggests to me that trafficking would be reduced if their countries of origin improve.
In short, once again the Identity Card and National Register seems to be a solution looking for a problem.
E-mail terror alerts will be sent out to the public under a new system launched by security chiefs at MI5.
From Tuesday, people will be able to register on the MI5 website to receive updates when the threat level changes.
I think I’ve only ever seen it at ‘severe’, meaning “an attack is likely”.
Why on earth would you want to receive this information by email? Also, as SpyBlog put it so eloquently, at around the time of the liquid explosives on aircraft threat,
Threat Level CRITICAL – now what are we meant do?
Um… bring the washing in?
But seriously, we aren’t required to do anything other than “remain vigilant”. John Reid, the Home Secretary, says:
Threat levels in themselves do not require specific responses from the public.
Back to the usual bland reporting from the BBC, which never seems to ask the right questions – or indeed any questions – when reporting such subjects. I like the BBC, but do we need it to reproduce information from the Government?
The initiative follows considerable interest in similar information for the public introduced in August on the MI5 and Home Office websites.
I’m sure there is interest. But what form does it take? How was this interest measured? Do people generally look just the once, or do they return time and again to see if anything has changed? The sort of things web administrators are routinely asked.
…Whitehall says the move to introduce e-mail terror alerts has been in the pipeline for a while.
…The Home Office says it is part of a long-planned programme
Is that supposed to be a positive?
of reaching out to the public and keeping it better informed about the terrorist threat.
Why on earth does it take Government ‘a while’ to put together a webform that connects to a mailing list? Something acquaintances have done within minutes?