The Departments of Professional Standards and RIPA – #TheRestIsUnbelievablySilent
Firstly I would like to refer you to my earlier blogs on the subject if you haven’t already read them
and if you really have nothing better to do
In the second part of that unholy trilogy I commented that 3 out of 4 Forces that I had written to and requested information under the Freedom of Information Act had refused to supply me with any information and that they had all refused to Confirm or Deny whether they even held the information I was requesting.
After waiting over 2 months for a reply I finally lost patience and informed Dorset Police that if I did not receive my information, or a reasonable explanation why they couldn’t provide it, within 72 hours I would be complaining to the Information Commissioner about their handling of my request. Well less than 24 hours later I received my reply. There will no prizes awarded for guessing that this was to be my 4th consecutive Refusal. Nor is there a bonus prize for guessing that this was to be my 4th consecutive “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” letter. Could they really not have issued me with that response within the 20 days allowed for such requests? Smacks of Game Playing to me.
For anybody who is sufficiently bored or masochistic the response from Dorset Police Professional Standards Department can be found here.
It does look rather familiar, it looks very much like its 3 predecessors in fact.
Now it would be no lie to say that I’m a little pissed off by this. Not because they won’t tell me what I want to know, although I do believe it to be in the public interest, but because the reasons quoted by all four Forces are hardly appropriate. In fact, I’ve said it before and I shall say it again, it’s almost as though a corporate response has been drafted by an organisation, let’s call them ACPO shall we?, and all UK forces told “This is your answer if anyone comes sniffing around RIPA”.
So I thought I’d have a closer look at some of their objections and see what public opinion has to say about them. Maybe I’m just being Crusty and Unreasonable;
By confirming or denying that RIPA applications have been made in instances of police use of social media or email would hinder the prevention or detection of crime and undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement. Really? Would confirming/denying really compromise the prevention or detection of crime? How would it affect the ‘partnership approach’ to law enforcement?
By confirming or denying that any information relevant to the request exists, law enforcement tactics could be compromised which could hinder the prevention and detection of crime and lead to more crime being committed. Now I truly wouldn’t want to do that, nothing that makes life easier for villainy sits well in my agenda, but is this really true? Are you folk still serving really unaware of these tactics and be advantaged if I let the cat out of the bag? Sorry DPS, I truly wouldn’t want to do that.
Section 40(5) – Personal Information
The duty to neither confirm nor deny under this section of the Act arises where the disclosure of the information into the public domain would contravene any of the data protection principles or Section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998 or would do so if the exemptions in Section 33(1) of that Act were disregarded. Where have I asked for Personal Information? Questions 1, 3 and 4 simply require a number as their answer. Question 2 simply requires a schedule of offences. No Personal Information there DPS, sorry, you’ll have to better than that.
The Police service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so would undermine ongoing investigations or compromise law enforcement. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively managing the conduct of police officers, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police investigations and operations. I absolutely agree with this answer, and that is why I chose 2011 as the date range for my requests. Are there really any internal, criminal investigations ongoing which have not been concluded since 2011, maybe it’s time to reassess the priorities and proportionality of these investigations.
As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of police officer conduct, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. The points above highlight the merits of neither confirming or denying the requested data exists. It is appreciated that members of the public will naturally be interested in techniques employed for surveillance. Likewise, we also understand some people believe surveillance (in any form) is used too widely, and therefore an unnecessary intrusion into their privacy. However, taking into account the fact that the Police Service are already scrutinised as detailed above and effective operational law enforcement would be compromised by any disclosure, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test for confirmation or denial is not made out. As previously mentioned, none of the above can be viewed as an inference that any information does or does not exist. Technobabble, corporate speak. Is that REALLY a valid reason to neither Confirm Nor Deny or Refuse the request? I think not.
At the end of the day the clue is in the name of the Act – FREEDOM of Information. Be big boys and operate within the spirit of the law, the way it was intended, and let the Public have their information. It’s not only me that’s being affected, hundreds of little retiredandangrys are out there also trying to find out stuff and getting fobbed off. It’s not State Secrets that we’re trying to get, IT’S THE TRUTH.
It has not escaped my attention that some paragraphs in the letters from the 4 Forces are absolutely identical, word perfect. Surely this is an indication that ACPO or the Association of Police Authorities foresaw this happening and colluded in an attempt to prevent the release of this information, thus allowing Police Forces to continue unhindered in what might be questionable behaviour. We don’t know whether it’s questionable or by-the-book because they won’t tell us. WHY NOT?
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