September 2005 Archives

Metropolitan Police FOIA - inflexible data systems

Our amended FOIA request (attached below) to the Metropolitan Police about the number of applications and authorisations, arrests and charges, under sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 has again been rejected, on the grounds that even this cut down request, would still take more than 18 hours to comply with, just like our original FOIA request.

Following a phone conversation with the Metropolitan Police records people, the reasons that even this amended request would, apparently take so long, is interesting, and has implications for any FOIA requests to the Metropolitan Police for any crime statistics.

Apparently in order to determine how many arrests or charges there have been over a specific time period, for a specific offence, under any legislation, the Metropolitan Police would need to "look in over 100 places" on their computer systems.

Details of the actual reasons for an Arrest, or the details of any actual Charges, are, apparently, stored in free text fields on their computer systems, and so this information is not easily automatically cross-referenced - no Google search engine for the Metropolitan Police records, by the looks of things !

There does not appear to be a centralised criminal charge booking system, each Borough within the Metropolitan Police does its own.

We have been advised that sending an FOIA request to each Borough, would be interpreted as a "campaign" and the "vexatious requests" Exemption from the FOIA would then apply.

Our only hope of getting what should be the relatively simple information, on what appears to be less than a dozen arrests and/or charges under sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005, wouild be to submit the request to Westminster Borough Division (most of the Designated Area around Parliament Square) , and then, perhaps a month later to Lambeth Borough which covers the London Eye etc, on the south/east bank of the Thames.

Similarly, our "simple" request for the number of Written Applications for Permission to Demonstrate, and the number of Authorisations by the Commissioner (with ot without attached Conditions), is not handled by a single desk at, say, the Public Order Operational Command Unit, but by each of the Borough Operational Command Units (BOCU). The badly draughted SOCPA legislation allows for Applications to "the Commissioner for Police of the Metropolis", to be sent by recorded delivery postal mail, or to be handed in at any Police Station in the Metropolis.

Therfore again, any search of their records, London wide, involves each of the BOCU, all 34 of them, plus Applications sent to the New Scotland Yard HQ. Even if it only takes about half an hour to deal with an FOIA request at each BOCU, then the "18 hour" limit is almost certain to be breached.

Given the billions of pounds spent on the Metropolitan Police's IT systems over the years, and the insatiable demand for crime statistics by the Home Office, it does seem extraordinary, that the system should be so fragmented, and that a free text search engine has not been installed.

The Metropolitan Police have rejected our FOIA request, regarding the notifications and authorisations, arrrests and charges under the controversial new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area arounf Parliament Square, Whitehall , the London Eye etc. because they estimate that it would take too long.

OK, we will try again with fewer questions, using the hard to find online form:

The Office of the Information Commissioner has emailed us, after we reminded them about our outstanding complaint (which has been with them for 6 months) regarding the Office for Government Commerce's decsion not to release their Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme:

"As you will appreciate this is a particularly sensitive issue and will require very careful and considered attention before we are able to make a decision on this case."

The timeline so far:

FOIA request to the Metropolitan Police regarding the Seriouus Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square - applications and authorisations to demonstrate, arrests and charges for July and August 2005, when the powers to demand written prior permission and arbitrary conditions on any , ill defined "demonstration", within a large area around Parliament Square, came into force.

The Metropolitan Police are not a Central Government Department, so some of the Freedom of Information Act Exemptions which the likes of the Home Office or the Treasury routinely invoke do not apply.

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

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Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team." - does this apply to the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government as well ?

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


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Yes, Minister

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FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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