Posts Tagged ‘Information Commissioner’

New Labour Turns to Criminal Hacking to Stop Corbyn

July 19, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that an internet campaign organisation, #HackingLabour, had been formed by the Blairites at Progress, Saving Labour and Labour First. This organisation has the object of hacking into Labour’s computer records, in order to find details of ex-members, who left in protest against Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party. #HackingLabour and its backers wish to use the information to recruit these former members back to Labour, so that they can vote six more anti-Labour representatives onto the NEC to block Corbyn’s policies there.

Mike points out that such data mining is illegal under data protection laws. See his article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/18/hackinglabour-the-new-wheeze-by-the-campaign-against-corbyn-is-a-criminal-offence/

In fact, it was so illegal that Mike later reported that the Information Commissioner had stepped in to stop it.

Information Commissioner acts to shut down illegal #HackingLabour data harvesting

This is more evidence showing just how desperate New Labour is to hold on to power, and keep people trapped in the Thatcherite consensus of austerity, welfare cuts and poverty, all to curry favour with the right-wing media and political and economic establishment. It’s just one in a long line of dirty tricks, from T-shirts to heckling and other PR stunts.

Of course, the real question is what Owen Smith and Angela Eagle think of all this. These stunts have been done for their benefit, and breaking into computers to steal membership information isn’t that far removed from breaking into a hotel room to steal information. That brought down Richard Nixon. The public has a right to know what Smith and Eagle think about it, because this reflects on their attitude to other, possible forms of corruption and illegality in government.

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This Fortnight’s Private Eye on the Tories’ Attack on the Freedom of Information Act

March 23, 2016

This fortnight’s issue of Private Eye (18th-31st March 2016) has a piece on the government’s latest attempt to water down the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently, the review has rejected the suggestion that charges should be levied on requests, but it is expected to include a series of exemptions for certain types of information. This includes correspondence on government policies, depending on a test of whether it is ‘in the public interest’. It also aims to prevent the release of information that would ‘prejudice the conduct of public affairs’. The Tories’ review also proposes to drop appeals to a first tier tribunal. It is suggested that appeals should only be referred to an upper tribunal in cases involving a point of law.

The Eye makes it clear that these reforms are being suggested because the government is losing a high proportion of appeals. 31 per cent of the cases in which public authorities have refused to release material under the ‘conduct of public affairs’ exemption have been overturned, and partially overturned in a further 24 per cent of cases. As for the ‘policy’ exemption, the Eye notes that the government has been successful in keeping the information secret in less than half of all cases under the last Information Commissioner. Under the present Commissioner, Christopher Graham, the number of cases that have been overturned on this particular exemption reached 83 per cent last year (2015).

So no wonder the Tories, Whitehall and New Labour control freaks like Jack Straw are keen to vitiate the Act so that further information can’t possibly get out.

Vox Political: Report Recommends Commissioner to Protect People with Learning Difficulties

February 23, 2016

This is another fascinating piece from Vox Political. According to the Grauniad, Stephen Bubb, the author of a report on abuse of people with learning difficulties at a care home near Bristol, has recommended that a special commissioner should be appointed to protect them. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/appoint-individual-to-protect-rights-of-the-vulnerable-report-suggests/

It’s an interesting idea. The piece points out that there is already a children’s commissioner, following the horrific maltreatment and death of Victoria Climbie. Continuing the Classical theme from my last post about Boris Johnson, there’s a kind of precedent for all this in Ancient Greece. I can remember reading in one of the books at College that one of the Greek city states – probably Athens – had an ‘archon for women’ – effectively a ‘minister’, to investigate causes of complaint raised by them. This followed a women’s strike or strikes similar to the sex strike portrayed in Sophocles’ Lysistrata. There was, I believe, also radical working class Communist movements, which formed the basis for another ancient Greek play, The Ekkleziae. In the case of women, today that’s resulted in calls for greater representation of women in parliament and politics generally, but that simply wasn’t considered in the very patriarchal political environment of the ancient world.

It’s an interesting idea, but I honestly don’t know how effective such a commissioner would be, even if one could be set up. The Tories don’t like bureaucracy, and especially not when it deals with disadvantaged groups. Mike’s undoubtedly correct when he says that there’s little chance of such a commissioner being appointed under Cameron. I feel that if a commissioner were appointed, it would only be a cosmetic measure. The institutions within the civil service which are supposed to be the government in check seem to be all too willing to bow to their every whim. For example, Mike had to fight long and hard to get the DWP to concede that it had to release the figures of the number of people with disabilities, who had died after being found fit for work. The Department did so only exceedingly grudgingly, and the Information Commissioner at many points seemed very willing to accede to the government’s wishes, rather than get them to release the information. Privacy and civil liberties groups have also expressed alarm at the way the government watchdogs, which are supposed to protect us from the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the intrusive acquisition of personal data by the state, have done no such thing, or have made only the flimsiest of protests.

It’s a good idea, but I’m pessimistic about how it would work out. Even if Cameron appointed one in the first place. And I doubt he would. I think the home at the centre of the abuse scandal is privately run. Cameron definitely does not want anyone to take any action that might impugn the mighty efficacy of private enterprise. It’s why, after all, Nikki Morgan, the education minister, refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s question about how many privately run academies have had to be taken back into state management. The last thing Cameron and his crony capitalists want is another report stating that private enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean quality care, and the expansion of the powers of the state. The Tories are, after all, the party of Thatcher, and that’s what she hated the most. The frontiers of the state have to be rolled back, and who cares if the poor and the disabled are abused and victimised.

Private Eye Freedom of Information Request Turned Down as ‘Vexatious’

December 23, 2015

As most readers of this blog probably, Mike over at Vox Political and very many other disability activists have been trying to get the government to release the full figures for the numbers of disabled and chronically sick people, who’ve died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS and now Maximus. The DWP has been fighting their requests all the way. They have repeatedly turned them down as vexatious, stonewalled and dragged their heels, and then twisted the terms of the request so as to avoid supplying the information the sense of the request demanded. Mike and the others have persisted through this disgraceful process, launching appeal after appeal. This government under the Gentleman Ranker is determined to keep the figures of the people it has killed through its surreptitious eugenics cleansing under the guise of welfare to work.

And Mike and the disabled are very definitely not the only people to have their reasonable requests for information under the terms of ‘open government’ turned down. One of them is Private Eye. In recent months, the Eye has been concerned about the vast amounts of British land that is formally held by offshore companies, who pay no tax. They have built up an alarming picture of just how much is owned through requests made to the Land Registry under the Freedom of Information Act. Now they have hit the same wall as Mike and the others. Their requests for information have been turned down as ‘vexatious’.

The Eye describes their attempts to get the information, and the brush off they have received from the Land Registry. They write

As reported in Eye 1402, it [the Land registry] has refused our request for information on the thousands more properties bought by offshore companies since 2014, claiming the request is “vexatious” and the information is “reasonably accessible” by other means” – despite the “other means” being thousands of individual requests at £11 a time and demanding an army of supporting anoraks.

The Land Registry has also refused on the grounds that the information is Crown Copyright, and so exempt from the regulations. The Eye has then pointed out that as this would have made all information collected by the Civil Service exempt from FOI requests, that legal loophole has been ended. Like Mike and the disabled lobbyists, the Eye has launched an appeal to the Information Commissioner. But they state that if the Registry’s refusal is upheld, then Cameron’s professed commitment to open up government information to the public ‘will be so much hot air’.

See the Eye’s article, ‘Freedom of Information: Open Contempt’ in their Christmas issue, 19th December -7th January, page 39.

I wish the Eye all the best, but I think they will find Cameron’s promise exactly so much hot air. Cameron is a natural authoritarian and aristocratic elitist, who instinctively distrusts the proles and looks back to the glory days of the pre-1832 Reform Act. His ideal is an England where the proles meekly accept their station at the bottom of the social pile and touch their forelock to their masters and betters. Where he does support freedom of information, it’s purely to benefit business, not individuals.

More Memes Against Conservative-Lib Dem Killing of Disabled from Vox Political

May 6, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has produced a couple more memes against Cameron’s and Clegg’s mass murder of the sick and disabled through their benefit reforms. Mike posted up a piece last Friday, letting his readers know that the Information Commissioner had finally ruled in his favour. The DWP was now required to release the information to him on the numbers of people, who died between 2011 and last year, while claiming invalidity benefit and ESA.

These figures give the lie to the Tory claim that those willing to work are being helped into employment, while those who can’t are being given the support they need.

These people died in misery, poverty and desperation, because the benefit simply wasn’t enough. If they were fortunate enough to get it, of course. Many didn’t. They were sanctioned for the most trivial and contrived of reasons.

Since being informed of the Commissioners’ decision, Mike has received now word from the DWP itself. They have not sent him the information he requested. He therefore states on his blog that he feels they intend to make him wait the full 35 days before sending him the information.

The reason? If they give him the information now, it might cost them the election. Too many people could be swayed by the horrifying fact that Cameron, Clegg, Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVile have killed an estimated 60,000 or more with his wretched benefit reforms.

There has also been little interest in this information from the mainstream media, although he says there have been some encouraging signs from certain editors.

He’s therefore produced these two memes to help get the word out to the public. He’s encouraging people to share them, so please, feel free to print ’em off, and post them up, whether in hard copy or on the Net.

The first meme shows how the number of people, who have officially died while receiving benefits, is probably on the tip of the iceberg.

tipoftheiceberg

The second meme lays out the case that for the disabled, voting Tory or Lib Dem in the election is like certain poultry voting for a certain seasonal feast.

DWPturkeys

From 2011: Information Tribunal Casts Doubt on Suitability of Infrormation Commissioner after BCCI Cover-Up

April 8, 2014

In their issue for the 30th September-13th October 2011, Private Eye also had an article on the questions raised about the performance of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, after he sided with the government in refusing to disclose information about some of the people involved in the BCCI scandal. That was the bank, which was at the centre of a massive web of corruption and whose collapse in the 1980s caused a huge scandal. It was so corrupt, that it was at one point nicknamed The Bank of Crooks and Conmen International. The articles runs:

Freedom of Information

FoI-led Again

A recent decision by the Information Tribunal, which forced the Treasury to hand over previously concealed details of a 20-year-old report into the BCCI banking scandal, code-named Sandstorm, raises serious questions over whether the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is the man for the job.

Two years ago he had to rule on the Treasury’s non-disclosure of material including the names of people running the fraudulent bank and organisations propping it up. Its stance was based largely on the unlikely grounds that divulging the names would harm international relations or that the names constituted personal data (which can still be disclosed in the public interest).

Among the names concealed as “personal data” were BCCI founder Agha Asan Abedi, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Royal Bank of Scotland and an entire country in the government of Cameroon. Amazingly graham agreed completely with the Sir Humphreys (who also happen to hold his purse strings). But when lefty accountant Professor Prem Sikka from Essex university challenged his decision and took it to the Information Tribunal, it was dismissed out of hand.

“we were surprised to see that the Treasury sought to extend the protection of the data protection principles,” said the tribunal judges, “to information about some individuals who exercised ultimate control over the whole of BCCI’s operations and were the architects of a group-wide programme of fraud and concealment.”

When it came to countries and companies, the Treasury had made the most basic error of treating their names as “personal”. The judges must have been even more surprised to find that an Information Commissioner who is supposed to understand the subject endorse this., On the concealment of Abedi’s name, they concluded with some understatement: “the legitimate interest of the public …justifies disclosure of the identity of the man in overall charge …”

Mike and a number of other bloggers have had their attempts to obtain the true figures of the numbers of people, who have died after being assessed as fit for work under the Freedom of Information Act, turned down. Mike himself was told by the Information Commissioner that his request was ‘vexatious’ by the Information Commissioner after he challenged the decision. This case, unfortunately, shows that Mike and the others are not alone in having their requests turned down under what may be considered highly questionable grounds. Mike’s case is due to go before the Information Tribunal, and I hope they will decide in favour of Mike and the other people wishing to obtain the information. THi

Vox Political Goes to Tribunal for Freedom of Information 23rd April

March 29, 2014

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Yesterday, Mike announced that he finally had a date for the tribunal, which will adjudicate on his appeal against the decision of the DWP and the Information Commissioner to refuse to release to him the figures for the people who died whilst claiming ESA or Incapacity Benefit in 2012. Mikes states that

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, made a ringing declaration of the immense importance of freedom of information, as well as speech, for a truly democratic society. I’ve already blogged on this on Sunday, but given the immense importance of this issue, Sakharov’s words still bear repeating.

Intellectual freedom is essential to human society – freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such as trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demogogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economy and culture.

But freedom of thought is under a triple threat in modern society – from the deliberate opium of mass culture, from cowardly, egotistic, and philistine ideologies, and from the ossified dogmatism of a bureaucratic oligarchy and its favourite weapon, ideological censorship. Therefore, freedom of thought requires the defence of all thinking and honest people. This is a mission not only for the intelligentsia but for all strata of society, particularly its most active and organized stratum, the working class. The world-wide dangers of war, famine, cults of personality, and bureaucracy – these are perils for all mankind.

He then goes to state that a true Freedom of Information law must allow for the active encouragement of examination and investigation:

A law on press and information must be drafted, widely discussed, and adopted, with the aim not only of ending irresponsible and irrational censorship, but also of encouraging self-study in our society, fearless discussion, and the search for truth. The law must provide for the material resources of freedom of thought.

E. Salisbury, ed., Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf 1974), in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism Vol 1. Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. 1985), 372,373.

Sakharov was writing in the very repressive conditions of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, his description of the immense importance of freedom of thought and information is relevant everywhere. I hope that the Tribunal similarly believes in the absolute importance of freedom of information, and upholds Mike’s appeal.

The Unemployed and Disabled Need an Elected ‘Guardian and Protector’

March 11, 2014

131109doublespeak

I received this interesting comment from Gay Mentalist to my post on Kenneth Mackenzie’s book on Parliament as a vital resource in this time of constitutional change, and the Coalition’s contempt for representative democracy:

Really interesting post, as you point out, there has been more of a presidential theme in British politics for some years now. I’m often struck by how sometimes people forget that a general election is a series of local elections rather than just 1 national election. Quite often you used to hear people saying “I’m voting for Blair” in the past. They weren’t generally voting for Blair, Brown, Thatcher, Major, Cameron or any of the other leaders, they were voting for a local candidate, with these tv debates, I fear that is something that is getting lost even more. If they want that style of politics then maybe we should have an elected PM? In fact why not go the whole hog and have an elected cabinet? That could make for interesting results!

Unelected Ministers Causing Problems for Unemployed and Disabled

I was thinking about something like that myself, although it was about a very specific set of ministers. I wonder if we actually need the ministers dealing with the unemployed and the disabled to be elected. Left-wing bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, The Void, Daepac Leicester, Jaynelinney, Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge, myself and so many others have reported the terrible effects the government’s policies have had on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. You can read about the immense hardship suffered by ordinary people on Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, London Food Bank and Benefit Tales, to name just a few. In addition to the hardship they face is the fact that they have no voice in parliament. The ministers that should be guaranteeing them some dignity, a living income and the hope of something better – the ministers for the disabled and people in charge of the DWP, are those, who are responsible for the creation and implementation of the policies that are the direct cause of their suffering.

No Help from Information Commissioner

And it seems no redress is possible from other branches of the government Simply getting the statistics of the number of people, who’ve died as a result of government policy is nearly impossible. Mike and the other people, who have asked for this information under the Freedom of Information Act, have been refused. Why? When they asked as individuals, it was deemed to difficult and expensive to provide the information for just one person. When others asked for the information, the government decided that this was a concerted policy to inconvenience the government, and therefore ‘vexatious’. More cynically, the government has blatantly stated it will not provide the information as this would cause more people to oppose the policy and block its implementation. In other words, they know the public would find it unpleasant, cruel and immoral, and so the public must now be allowed to know about it.

Workless Camps

Forced Labour Camps for British Unemployed in 1920s

It’s all rather like the forced labour camps set up for the unemployed in the 1920s, about which Unemployed in Tyne and Wear reported on his blog. Most of the records of that truly horrible little piece in British history were destroyed after the policy was abandoned. One cannot help but compare it to the way the Nazis carefully hid the details of their extermination of the Jews and other racial desirables in the death camps. It also raises very awkward questions of how fundamentally different we British are to the continental nations. We tend to see ourselves as more freedom-loving, and so fundamentally freer and more moral than just about everyone else, but the fact that these camps were set up raises questions about whether, if the First World War had gone the other way, and Britain had been defeated and suffered punitive reparations by a victorious Germany, we would also have seen a vicious, Fascist-style dictatorship, complete with the incarceration of political dissidents and the murder of the Jews and other racial or social undesirables in England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

IDS and McVey, two of the ministers responsible, can get away with this as they are not directly responsible to the people, who are the subjects and victims of their legislation. They are appointed by the Prime Minister, and are essentially responsible for carrying out his policies. Hence IDS on Sunday could get away with issuing a tissue of lies about how successful his policies were to Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics.

This cannot go on. It is failing people. Tens of thousands are dying each year as a result, but this is ignored and covered up by this aristocratic government. 23 out of 29 of the ministers in Cameron’s first cabinet were millionaires. 51 per cent were privately educated, and only three per cent went to comprehensives. Cameron believes he was born to rule, and so treats us like serfs.

It’s time this changed.

Guardian and Protector of Slaves Possible Model for Minister to Protect Unemployed and Disabled?

I wonder if we don’t need a ‘Guardian and Protector’ of the unemployed and disabled as a vital, established and directly elected government official, similar to the officials the British government established in their Caribbean slave colonies during the 1820s. This was a period when the government was trying to ameliorate, rather than emancipate the slaves. As a result of a series of truly horrific cruelty cases, the British government passed a series of legislation intended to improve conditions for slaves. This regulated the amount of food they were to be given by their masters, and limited the punishments that were to be inflicted. They also set up a series of commissions to investigate the condition of the slaves, talking not just to their masters, but also to the slaves themselves. The resulting parliamentary reports make fascinating reading. Many of the slaves had quite strong views about their masters, and weren’t afraid to make them known.

The British government also set up specific government post to deal with cases of cruelty and neglect. This was the ‘Guardian and Protector of Slaves’, modelled somewhat on the office of the alcalde in the Spanish colonies. These were responsible for investigating cases of cruelty and neglect upon the request of the slaves themselves. If they judged that the case was ‘frivolous’, the slave would be punished by whipping. If they found in his favour, however, they could punish the slave-owner, and order the slave to be compulsorily sold to a better, more humane master.

Minister for Women in Greek City States

I also read while at College that some of the ancient Greek city states also had a similar official to ensure better treatment and conditions for women. Ancient Greek society was extremely masculine and patriarchal, and the status of women was very low. Nevertheless, as series of strikes by women, similar to the sex strike in the play Lysistrata, had forced at least one of the ancient Greek city states to set up a special government figure to investigate incidents of abuse against them.

Pressure to Guarantee Proper Representation and Treatment of Women and Ethnic Minorities

All the parties are naturally under increasing pressure to increase the representation of women in parliament, and indeed throughout society, including business, science and the arts. There is also similar pressure to ensure that members of ethnic minorities also receive their fair share in our society and government.

Do We Need A Similar Official for Unemployed and Disabled?

I strongly believe that we need an elected official to represent the unemployed and the disabled at Westminster, and that this official should be elected by the unemployed and disabled themselves. There are any number of organisations pressing for their better treatment, like the CAB, but these are seeing their budgets cut, or their findings ignored. I think a way of solving this problem would be to make the ministers, or a minister for them directly accountable, to ensure that their interests were not side-lined, or simply subordinated to general government policy. So that someone like Ian Duncan Smith or Esther McVey can once again bluster and cover up their cruelty and incompetence with smooth lies without fear of tough questions.

Like how many have been killed or died from despair and starvation through the government’s policies.

This is just a suggestion, but I do wonder if others agree. Any ideas?