Recently in 7 Whitehall moles on secondment to ICO Category

The ICO has, quite promptly, responded to our FOIA request about possible Whitehall Civil Service secondees / moles working within the iCO.

See the original request via WhatDoThey

"parent departments" of the 7 civil servants seconded to the ICO

1) The list of the "parent departments" of the "seven civil servants" on secondment to the Information Commissioner's Office, as mentioned in the Government's Response to the House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee:

We currently have six secondees working in the Information Commissioners Office. They are seconded to us from the Ministry of Justice, Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.

Thankfully nobody from the Home Office is working there, though, of course, the Ministry of Justice person/people may be ex-Home Office civil servants.

2) What exactly are the specific duties of these seven civil servants within the Information Commissioner's Office ?

The secondees are performing the duties of a Senior FOI Complaints Officer working within our Freedom of Information Operations Department. This department is responsible for investigating complaints received under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.


3) How can the Information Commissioner's Office now be seen to remain independent of Whitehall ?

The secondees have been asked to sign an agreement which states that:

Information to which the secondee has access during the course of the secondment to the ICO must be treated as being private and confidential. The information must not be disclosed to parties outside the ICO either during or after the secondment period.

What criminal sanctions are there if such information is disclosed "in good faith" to other Government departments, police and intelligence agencies etc ?None at all.

The Common Law Duty of Confidentiality has been eroded to the point of destruction by this Labour Government;s terrorism, serious crime, financial reporting and child welfare legislation and regulations etc. etc.

Furthermore Freedom of Information Operations Department has a procedures manual which records the complaint process and is a resource for all caseworkers whilst investigating complaints received. Within the 'Investigation Stage' of the manual and when referring to allocation of complaints within teams its states:

'When allocating casework to secondees the Team Leader should ensure that no case is allocated to a secondee which involves their home department'.

All well and good, but the suspicion remains that these Whitehall civil service secondees will be more likely than not to interpret FOIA complaints in favour of Whitehall secrecy, rather than in favour of transparency and the public's right to know.

We will probably have to insist that our complaints to the ICO are not handled by Whitehall secondees, even though this might delay them somewhat - our complaints get delayed by months and years anyway.

At the very least, a complainant should be made aware that the ICO complaints Officer dealing with their FOIA complaint is, in fact, a Whitehall civil servant on secondment, and should be given the opportunity to have the complaint dealt with by regular, independent ICO staff.

It would be much more reassuring, if Information Commissioner's Office staff were seconded into Whitehall Government Departments, perhaps to conduct the Independent Reviews of FOIA requests

Note that this FOIA request was not refused on the grounds that only a pseudonym had been supplied rather than a "real name".

The ICO response:

The UK FOIA blog The work of the Information Commissioner: Govt response to the Justice Cttee contains this alarming quote from the Government:

In the current financial year, additional funding has been complemented by a secondment scheme. Seven civil servants paid by their parent departments are currently working for the Information Commissioner's Office on the backlog of freedom of information cases"

How can the Information Commissioner's Office now claim to be seen to remain "independent" from the Whitehall bureaucracy ?

  • How can civil servants be trusted to be independent and impartial, when they may have to criticise their own Departments, colleagues and bosses, and could easily come under peer pressure or feel that they might jeapordise their career or promotion prospects if they do so ?

  • Will confidential personal data e.g. the real names,postal and email and addresses and telephone numbers of FOIA complainants, submitted to the ICO, find its way back to these Whitehall Departments, via these FOIA complaints backlog "moles" ?

  • Will the ICO's legal advice and preparations for Information Tribunal and High Court FOIA appeal cases, also find its way back to the "other side" i.e. to the Whitehall Departmental or Treasury Solicitor legal teams , via such "moles" ?

The extra money should have been used to employ more ICO staff directly.

We have asked, via the FOIA request portal, which Whitehall departments now have "moles" on secondment within the ICO , and just what their duties and potential ability to delay FOIA complaints is.

"parent departments" of the 7 civil servants seconded to the ICO

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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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