Thursday, August 17, 2006

ICO releases names of MP complainants after internal review

I've received a positive response to my request for an internal review related to the request I made to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for the details of MP's complaints to the ICO under Section 50. In reponse to my request the ICO had previous supplied details of thc complaints but removed the names of MPs. The ICO stated:

It would appear that the decision to remove MPs names from the information that was supplied to you was based upon our general practice of removing the names of complainants from the published versions of decision notices. This practice is based upon a concern that in some cases a decision notice may reveal information about the private life of the complainant which might, in turn, be a breach of the Data Protection Act. For instance, we receive many complaints from private individuals who have been unsuccessful in their attempts to discover the identity of a person who has made a complaint about them. The background to these cases may lie in disputes with a social services department, allegations about breaches of planning regulations etc. The notices will generally provide some background information including information about the issues giving rise to the complaint about the applicant for information.

Identifying the complainant in these cases would by likely both to involve an interference with the private life of the complainant and to act as a deterrent to others contemplating making a complaint to the Commissioner. It seems to me reasonable in these cases that the Commissioner should wish to protect the privacy of those who complain to him. We have found it easier to adopt the general practice of removing the names of complainant's from published decision notices rather than making a judgement in individual cases.
However, while I think that the general approach by the ICO is defensible, I think that complaints made to the Commissioner by Members of Parliament acting as such are fundamentally different. Most such requests will be made on official stationery and will clearly be made by members acting in an official capacity, whether as the representative of a constituent or, where requests are made in their own right, for more broadly political purposes. I do not think that there is any general justification for the removal of the names of MPs from the information which was previously supplied to you.

All the names of the MPs have now been supplied. The data is useful for my research as it helps in building the profile of MPs using the FOIA and appeal procedures.

Download the data
with MP names added as released by the ICO

Download my annotated version with party details added as colour codes. Party split is as follows 13 Conversative complaints 13, Liberal Democrat: 10 Labour: 11. It would be expected that opposition use is higher, it is interesting to note the Labour complaints mainly stay away from Central Govt (not a good career move?) compared to the Conservative complaints which are nearly all related to Central Govt.

See my previous post about my research into MPs use of the FOIA

Some public authorities have taken a proactive approach to this already, e.g see the disclosure log of Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital which names both MPs and organisations making requests (but not individuals).

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