Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hemming & Secrecy

John H is tilting at another publicity windmill.

He reckons that the Chancellor should be required to make the contents of the Treasury computer model public and is displeased that he's been told to go away. What the Treasury actually said was that it “would in future inhibit officials/experts in providing sufficiently free and frank advice.' Anyone who's reviewed the Freedom of Information Act would instantly spot that this is a legally reason for refusal - a s36 exemption, on the grounds that releasing the information would be prejudicial to effective conduct of public affairs. To be honest, the Treasury could also have refused access under s35 (advice to Ministers) and s29 (prejudicial to the economy of the UK).

While this isn't an absolute exemption under the act, I'd suggest that Hemming's appeal to the Information Commissioner is likely to be laughed at. Whatever you think about the FoIA 2000, the refusal seems to be entirely within the terms of the Act.

There is an odd choice of words in his press release, though.
'John Hemming MP, a computer specialist, has hacked in to the Treasury's Economic Modelling Computer System'
He denies that he's done anything illegal, implying that this is a flight of pure hyperbole and we won't see Cllr Hemming being called in for a quick chat by the police. Still, anything for a bit of publicity, eh?

John's very hot on disclosure of information, so perhaps he can explain why the City Council are dragging their feet over releasing the consultants' report on the scheme for the Birmingham Underground. Indeed, they tried to define the report as confidential on the say-so of Mike Whitby and a few cronies - a decision for which there is no support in law and one which has been overruled by the legal team at the Council.

The council can expect to find itself the subject of a complaint in the very near future.


zoe said...

I noticed the claim about hacking as well - surely not a legal option? As regards the Underground report, it was due to be published on 1st October. Len Gregory flatly denied this yesterday, and still hasn't given a date when it will be released.

john said...

Hacking per se only means work.

As far as I know the report is going to be released in the future at some stage. I don't know when.

Radders said...

Hack has a number of meanings. But in the context of receiving a program listing, it clearly means to tinker with the code. I'm not sure that John needs to hack into the Treasurey...

PoliticalHack said...

In the mind of the vast majority of people (including journalists), to hack in to a computer system means to gain unauthorised access to it and that was the implication of John's blog/press release. To argue anything is else is either playing with semantics or being deliberately obtuse.

As for the report, a colleague of mine has an email stating that it was due for release before the 12 September. He's still waiting and is in the process of logging a complaint with the Information Commissioner. So much for that Liberal Democrat policy on openness in local government.