Recently in DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee etc. Category

Apparently the DWP FOI Focus Centre tried unsuccessfully to email a response to our Q1 and Q2 2006 List of Uses - DWP Longitudinal Study - FOIA request

After another failed attempt today, another DWP official, in the department which deals with FOI internal reviews (which we had requested into the handling of the request) managed to forward the email ok.

Perhaps they have a problem with their X400 email gateway to the Government Secure Intranet gateway to the Internet.

It is disappointing to see what has happened to the relatively good start which the Department for Work and Pensions made towards transparency and open government, following our first FOIA request regarding the controversial DWP Longitudinal Study.

Although this is a statistical tool, which is supposed to help make the distribution of state benefits more equitable, and to help crack down on fraud, there is a huge potential for privacy and security abuse of the combined data set of Social Security databases and Tax records (going back for the last 24 years), through what is actually a permanent statutory data sharing gateway and is not simply a one off exercise, but a continuous programme of rearch projects and investigations.

That is why there is supposed to be an independent Ethics Committee which scrutinises various datamining project requests.

The DWP have promised to publish the List of Uses to which such sensitive and powerful datasets are being put to, on paper and on their website, every 3 months

However, either due to some ongoing malrkey with the DWP website, or the loss of mrale and staff cuts at the DWP, there has been no information on these authorised Uses published throughout 2006 i.e. at least two Quarters of information is missing.

Will our FOIA request below prompt them into action ?

The Department for Work and Pensions website was updated yesterday with almost all of the information that we requested through our FOIA request

The Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study webpages Background Information and Safeguards and List of Uses now include links to other documents which go a very long way towards the level of transparency which was promised over a year ago:

The minutes etc. of the Ethics Committee are also promised to be published on the web site soon.

c.f. below for the reassurances given about the number of Security Incidents which might have compromised the massively valuable combined Department for Work and Pensions and Inland Revenue combined Data Sets

Reply from the Department for Work and Pensions, after only 18 working days:

We have had a request for clarification about our FOIA request to the Department for Work and Pensions, regarding the DWP-IR Longitudinal Study Ethics Committee.

This seems to be a very promising response to our request, after only 13 working days

Our inline reply to the request for clarification.:

In contrast to the DWP, finding the contact address for the Inland Revenue was much more staightforward.

An FOIA request is being sent to them, because, after all, they are supplying half of the sensitive personal data including names and addresses and financial records going back over the last 24 years.

One would hope that the Inland Revenue have some interest in what use is being made of this data, and are represented on the mythical Ethics Committee.

As with the DWP request, there is also a question about whether or not this sensitive data has been put at risk by the acknowledged internal IT security failures (sevral hundred incidents a year).

Read the FOIA request sent to the Inland Revenue:

Finding the appropriate address to send an FOIA request in the vast Department for Work and pensions, government within a government is not straightforward. They presume that people will contact their local DWP offices for information in the first place, which is not approrpriate for this particular FOIA request.

A good point is that they have now instituted a Secure Sockets Layer web email contact form, but with a fair amount of hunting around their Publication Scheme pages the IAD Information Centre postal address was found, and the Public Enquiry Office email address were found. The email address allegedly for enquiries about the Longitudinal Study is the one which has managed to ignore our emails over the last year asking when the website would be updated with the information which they promised to publish

"Quarterly publication of the uses
To ensure that DWP are accountable to the public for all work on the data, an internet and paper-based list of uses (existing and new) will be published every 3 months. "

Similarly the details about the Ethics Committee which does not seem to have been set up, for a year now, hence our request.

The update of the Longitudinal Study list of uses web page this week, poses a few more questions, i.e. what is all this "REMOVED" stuff about ?

Read a copy of what was sent as a FOIA request:

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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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