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?