UK Home Secretary Wants Everyone's Metadata; But If You Ask For Hers, Gov't Says You're Being Vexatious

from the funny-how-that-works dept

Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary who seems like a comic book version of a government authoritarian, is leading the charge in the UK for its new Snooper’s Charter, officially called the “Investigatory Powers Bill,” that is filled with all kinds of nasty stuff for making it easier for the government to spy on everyone. Among the many problematic elements is the demand for basically everyone’s metadata. May dismissed the concerns about this by saying it’s nothing more than “an itemised phone bill.” Given that, Member of Parliament Keith Vaz noted to May that people might be interested to see May’s itemized phone bill.

Soon after that, we noted that UK resident Chris Gilmour sent in a FOIA request for May’s metadata. Specifically, he asked for the following:

1) The date, time, and recipient of every email sent by the Home Secretary during October 2015.

2) The date, time, and sender of every email received by the Home Secretary during October 2015.

3) The date, time, and recipient of every internet telephony call (e.g. “Skype” call) made by the Home Secretary during October 2015.

4) The date, time, and sender of every internet telephony call (e.g. “Skype” call) received by the Home Secretary during October 2015.

5) The date, time, and domain address of every website visited by the Home Secretary during October 2015.

Not surprisingly, it appears he was not the only one to do so. UK newspaper The Independent sent in a FOIA request asking for:

… the web browser history of all web browsers on the Home Secretary Theresa May’s GSI network account for the week beginning Monday 26 October. Feel free to redact any web addresses relating to security matters.”

There may be other such requests as well — but both of these requests got back the same basic response from the UK government. In both cases, the government rejected the requests, claiming they were “vexatious.” Here’s the response to Gilmour’s:

We have considered your requests and we believe them to be vexatious. Section 14(1) of the Act provides that the Home Office is not obliged to comply with a request for information of this nature. We have decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable burden on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of ?fishing? for information without any idea of what might be revealed.

The requests are similar in nature to a request the Home Office received in 2014 that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) agreed was vexatious. The decision notice in question can be found at this link: https://search.ico.org.uk/ico/search/decisionnotice?keywords=FS50544833

Guidance issued by the ICO on vexatious requests can be found at this link: https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1198/dealing-with-vexatious- requests.pdf

It appears that The Independent got an identical response (word for word). The folks at The Independent seem reasonably annoyed by this.

While the Government is widening its own powers to access the information of citizens, it is watering down the public?s right to access the Government?s information.

Either way, there seems to be a legitimate question to ask Theresa May: if there’s no big deal about having the government go through your metadata and it’s “just like an itemised phone bill,” then why is it so “vexatious” for the public to ask for May’s metadata?

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Comments on “UK Home Secretary Wants Everyone's Metadata; But If You Ask For Hers, Gov't Says You're Being Vexatious”

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43 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Ah hypocrisy...

We have decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable burden on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of ‘fishing’ for information without any idea of what might be revealed.

Like the ‘unreasonable burden’ placed upon any company offering services in the UK, who are forced to gather up and make available to anyone who comes asking data from all of their customers?

Like the ‘scattergun approach’ of collecting everything possible, just in case it might become relevant at some time in the future?

Forget ‘Snooper’s Charter’, I suggest it instead be called the ‘Voyeuristic Hypocrites’ Bill’, as those pushing for it display both to a truly stunning degree.

Anonymous Coward says:

time repeats....

Why does anyone think that this behavior is wrong? We had some time of something that could be called democracy and no we go back to the good old times of kings and peasants.

If you can’t accept that then well… that is your problem because it will happen if we peasants want it or not. Even if we tried to pick up our forks they would send their knights aka heavily armed police and/or drones to keep the peace.

So I suggest your new workout involves crawling on your knees and bowing.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s called calling her bluff and/or exposing her lies.

She defends mass, indiscriminate metadata collection by claiming that it’s harmless, yet when someone asks for her metadata suddenly that’s invasive and unreasonable.

Anyone arguing for indiscriminate collection of private data, ‘metadata’ or not, especially those that defend the collection by claiming that it’s ‘harmless’, should be forced to hand over their data first. ‘Lead by example’ as it were, and if they refuse then their proposal is tossed out and their hypocrisy noted.

Ninja (profile) says:

Either way, there seems to be a legitimate question to ask Theresa May: if there’s no big deal about having the government go through your metadata and it’s “just like an itemised phone bill,” then why is it so “vexatious” for the public to ask for May’s metadata?

Let’s be honest here, a previous question should have been asked (if it hasn’t already): if metadata is that ‘unimportant’ then why the Govt is spending a lot of money after it and a lot of tongues trying to convince everybody it’s ok?

Honestly. If it is that innocuous then why all the effort? Because it is NOT that simple (as TD and other places have repeatedly shown).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s almost funny how their own arguments from one place shoot to pieces their arguments elsewhere, and vice versa.

If the data isn’t personally identifiable, then it’s useless to identify criminals/terrorists/communists.

If the data isn’t being sifted, sorted, and mined for significant tidbits as it’s gathered, then it’s useless to prevent anything, and at most can be used to spot what they may have missed after the fact.

The only way the data can be used to identify criminals is if it is possible to link ‘metadata’ to an individual.

The only way the data can be used in a preventative measure is if it is being combed through when it’s gathered, rather than only when they’re looking for something specific.

If their claims defending such programs are true, then the programs are useless at their stated goals, and need to be shut down. The only way for the programs to accomplish what they claim they do is if they’re lying, in which case the programs need to be shut down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…If the data isn’t personally identifiable, then it’s useless to identify criminals/terrorists/communists…

Are communists a threat these days? Years ago they were perceived as a threat, with a consequence being Senator McCarthy’s ‘witch hunt’. Said campaign included scrutiny of one’s family, friends, and employer(s). And that was before the idea of metadata retention!

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Right, right? This dissonance will be maintained till they can’t hide their censorious, tyrannical, psychopathic reasons. This decade may ass well be remembered in the future as the new dark ages in terms of control and censorship. I hope I’m wrong and things take a turn for the better. Each new attack, each new reaction seems to prove I’m right.

Klaus says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

http://www.theguardian.com/gnm-archive/gallery/2015/mar/28/poll-tax-riots-revisited-in-pictures

The UK authorities, already Orwellian in 1990, never saw this coming, and it brought down Thatcher’s notoriously hard-right-wing government. Since then, governments around the planet have had to tread a careful line between the creative syphoning off of tax revenue to their friends in business, and maintaining a civil order.

This is not always easy, especially at a time you want to down-size your military and police forces…
http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/622437/George-Osborne-spending-review-UKIP-army-police-budget-cuts

Anonymous Coward says:

Well given that their default response to any FOIA request can be applied word-for-word in a blanket manner, respond in kind. Copy their response, replace those terms/names for applicable ones when you’re presented with a request from the government.

Obviously this is a tactic that may not work, but it displays both the ridiculousness of such a response involving “vexatious” and double standard at play. If anything, could buy for time before the door is kicked in.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Technical Observation

I think the blanket refusal to respond is absolutely wrong. Let’s get that perfectly clear at the outset.

On the other hand, there could be purely technical reasons why the request is difficult, maybe impossible to fulfill.

That said, why couldn’t someone in Ms. Hays’ office work with the requester to narrow the scope of the request?

Anonymous Coward says:

Uk, the testbed

so many things wrong over the last couple of years

Just because you CAN do something, doesnt mean you SHOULD do something

The cameras
The software
The spying
The lying
The warmongering
The empire
The forcing
The manipulation
The disgusting or misguided schemes
The self bias
The superiority
The confidence bordering on the arrogance

Protean 8 says:

UK & Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd has already been there and done that with the song, “Us and Them” in the early seventies release of “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Don’t most aristocrats actually believe they are above us? Aren’t most of those working for them told this from the start and forced to believe them? Its a lifelong abysmal form of slavery. That’s why the world is all mucked up for us little people.

alan m dransfield says:

Dransfield Vexatious Decision GI/3037/2011

We now know the ICO has acted as a Tory gatekeeper for the past decade ref the ICO/FOIA laws. The Dransfield Vexatious decision which is the UK Leading Court Precedence was made by a Rogue Judge and is now regularly used as a scapegoat get out of Jail Free card. The Tory’s spent thousands of pounds tryingto scuppa the Hungarian NGO Magyar Helsinki Bizottsag and we now know why.
The PM TM was at the forfront of all this Vexatious BS and she now would have the word believe she is squeaky clean.
The PM position ref the abuse of Vexatious exemptionsis untenable and she MUST resign.
Alan M Dransfield
The Vexatious King of England

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