Wednesday, 6 July 2011

JoCo Parks His Tanks on the Post's Lawn

It seems that Collins was a bit rattled by the Post's recent reporting of his apparent refusal to let NCC's Information Governance staff search his emails for a FoI request. So rattled in fact that he's made a subject access request to the Post asking for any information they hold on him and written a blog post about it.

JoCo says -

"I believe this was misleading since all my Council e-mails are covered by the act..."

Well yes, we know that but stating that the emails are covered by the FoI Act doesn't explain why the Post's article was misleading. Information being covered by the Act is not necessarily inconsistent with a public authority withholding that information; it just means that the authority is in breach of the Act. Is JoCo saying that he didn't try and stop his emails being searched and that the Post was lying or had made a mistake? Perhaps he'll be going to the Press Complaints Commission about it?

He goes onto claim -

"... the Council has spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of City tax-payers money providing this information to the Nottingham Post."

Ah, the oft claimed NCC Freedom of Info victim status makes an appearance. Except of course NCC hasn't spent hundreds of thousands of ponds on providing JoCo's emails to the Post, he's referring to the total spend of NCC's FoI obligations. A sum inflated by NCC's often unjustified attempt to avoid disclosure requiring unnecessary and time-consuming trips to the Information Commissioner.

Cllr Collins of course has as much right to make a request for information under the Data Protection Act as any other citizen and the Post of course has a duty to treat his request in the same way it would treat a request by anybody else. In the event, the Post has refused his request under s.32 of the Data Protection Act, an exemption to disclosure rights for information that has been processed for journalistic purposes. JoCo says this is hypocritical.

But is it? Well it is conceivable that SOME of the information the Post has on JoCo isn't necessarily connected with its journalism . Furthermore, JoCo rightly points out that there is a public interest consideration for this exemption. JoCo presumably considers that there is no public interest in not providing the information to him. He would therefore be entirely justified with pursuing a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

I have to admit that Data Protection is not my strong point but you can see why there is an exemption for journalistic purposes, even though I can understand that it would be frustrating for an individual affected. Journalists need to protect their sources and people may be less willing to help journalists if they know that the subject of an investigation will see a copy of any info they provide. Even if any personal details are redacted it may well be possible to identify a whistleblower from the nature of the information concerned. I'm sure journalists could come up with a number of other reasons. Some of the info held may also be wrong and providing it to the data subject may open a journalistic source to a defamation claim. Again, the risk of this may well cause sources to dry up.

Furthermore, it seems clear that JoCo is only making the request to make a point (more on possible motivations in a bit) which hardly assists his public interest arguments. You might even see a parallel with the 'vexatious' request provisions in the FoIA, although there isn't an equivalent provision in data protection as far as I know.

But what if that isn't his motivation and he is in fact trying to find out who's been dobbing him in at the council? What would that say about his respect for journalists' responsibility to protect sources? I've left a comment on his blog post asking that very point and it will be interesting to see if a) he publishes it (it was subject to moderation last time I looked and I wouldn't be surprised if it stayed there, JoCo has form on that) and b) if he answers it. I'll update if he does.

Update - 10.30pm and my comment on JoCo's blogpost is STILL awaiting moderation

1 comment:

Peter said...

Joco is a first class knob. I have recently discovered that there is a very similar character in Boro.