Inquiries from Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times resulted in the following statement on Jan 22, 2010 by Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner, Information Commissioner’s Office. Smith stated that David Holland’s FOI requests were “not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation”, that it is an “offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information”, but that the particulars of the offence only came to light after the six-month statute of limitations under the FOI Act had expired. Smith stated that the Information Commissioner’s Office would request a change in the law to enable the prosecution of such time-barred cases.
While Smith did not propose a name for the amendment to the FOI law, it seems to me that the logical name would be the Jones et al (2010) Amendment (Jones et al being Jones, Philip W., Michael Mann, Keith Briffa, Caspar Ammann and Eugene Wahl.) This might prove a more permanent contribution than any of the Team hockeysticks.
The full statement:
Norfolk Police are investigating how private emails have become public. The Information Commissioner’s Office is assisting the police investigation with advice on data protection and freedom of information.
The emails which are now public reveal that Mr Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information. Mr Holland’s FOI requests were submitted in 2007/8, but it has only recently come to light that they were not dealt with in accordance with the Act.
The legislation requires action within six months of the offence taking place, so by the time the action taken came to light the opportunity to consider a prosecution was long gone. The ICO is gathering evidence from this and other time-barred cases to support the case for a change in the law. It is important to note that the ICO enforces the law as it stands – we do not make it.
It is for government and Parliament to consider whether this aspect of the legislation should be strengthened to deter this type of activity in future. We will be advising the University about the importance of effective records management and their legal obligations in respect of future requests for information. We will also be studying the investigation reports (by Lord Russell and Norfolk Police), and we will then consider what regulatory action, if any, should then be taken under the Data Protection Act.”
My guess is that this is not the end of this particular story.
The six month statute of limitations would not apply to the consideration of these actions by the various universities under their investigations.
It is also possible that the Information Commissioner’s Office may consider other approaches to the problem with longer statutes of limitations.