We all know how WLBC gets shirty over residents asking for the release of information, to the extent of declaring some of them to be vexatious, yours truly included. We just ask, what have they got to hide? It’s not as though the allegations of corruption from the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill royalties is anything new?
Well, it seems the UK government is running an “Orwellian” unit to block the release of “sensitive” information. There is a “Secretive Cabinet Office ‘Clearing House’ for Freedom of Information requests also accused of “blacklisting” journalists” about which openDemocracy is launching a legal bid for transparency.
The government has been accused of running an ‘Orwellian’ unit in Michael Gove’s office that instructs Whitehall departments on how to respond to Freedom of Information requests and shares personal information about journalists, openDemocracy has revealed.
Experts warn that the practice could be breaking the law, and openDemocracy is now working with the law firm Leigh Day on a legal bid to force Gove’s Cabinet Office to reveal full details of how its secretive ‘Clearing House’ unit operates.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are supposed to be ‘applicant-blind’: meaning who makes the request should not matter. But it now emerges that government departments and non-departmental public bodies have been referring ‘sensitive’ FOI requests from journalists and researchers to the Clearing House in Gove’s department in a move described by a shadow cabinet minister as “blacklisting”.
This secretive FOI unit gives advice to other departments “to protect sensitive information”, and collates lists of journalists with details about their work. These lists have included journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and many more, as well as researchers from Privacy International and Big Brother Watch and elsewhere.
The unit has also signed off on FOI responses from other Whitehall departments effectively centralising control within Gove’s office over what information is released to the public.
We could go on forever about this, in West Lancashire. Others do it well enough. Press freedom campaigners have sharply criticised the Clearing House operation and have called for full transparency. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said “The existence of this clearing house in the Cabinet Office is positively Orwellian. It poses serious questions about the government’s approach to access to information, its attitude to the public’s right to know and the collation of journalists’ personal information”.
And Jon Baines, a data protection expert at the law firm Mischon de Reya and chair of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, said that he was “far from assured that the operation of the Clearing House complies with data protection law”. Data protection law requires, as a basic principle, that personal data be processed fairly and in a transparent manner on the evidence that I have seen, I do not feel that the Clearing House meets these requirements” Baines added.
Amen to that in West Lancashire! Picture the WLBC “engine that helps drive compliance”! The mind boggles!