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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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 8:18am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 8:35am

    Either I'm supposed to have privacy too, or they're not allowed to have privacy either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:42am

      Re:

      That would imply those ruling your country view everyone as equal instead of just slaves to be given whatever rights those in charge deign to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 8:45am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anomynuos Crowad, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:21am

      Re: time repeats....

      Although kings-of-old were far less involved in the affairs of the peasants than any "democratic" regime has ever been. Of course, the problem is not necessarily the form of government but the technological tools available to it. Mass surveillance simply wasn't possible in those earlier times.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:43am

      Re: time repeats....

      There is always time for a good old fashioned peasants rebellion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 29 Dec 2015 @ 8:46am

    Sorry... no snooping on the snoopers' poop. (Who watches the watchers?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 8:53am

    Governments use personal information all the time to provide services. It doesn't mean all that information should be accessible by anyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:22am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:33am

        Re: Re:

        Screw that... as your Lord and Overseer you just need to do as told you smarmy peasant!

        I must be above the law to administer it! Now be silent!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:26am

      Re:

      The snoopers charter goes beyond any reasonable personal data required for government purpose, as it includes every phone call to your doctor,lawyer,dentist,pastor etc, along with every web site visit. Visit some Islamic websites to learn a little about Islam, and onto the surveillance lists you go..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 11:30am

      Re:

      Ah, but they only asked for the metadata!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:10am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:30am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:24am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:28am

    I guess it can always be worse...maybe
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Syjp9lsWBhc

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Crazy Canuck, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:34am

    Do as we say, not as we do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 29 Dec 2015 @ 9:40am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 11:24am

      Re: Technical Observation

      It wasn't refused on technical reasons, they didn't even get to the technical side of things. It was refused outright.

      Narrowing the scope defeats the reason for the filing. They want everything, why shouldn't we ask for the same?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 10:07am

    She has nothing to hide

    I don't see why her office has an issue with the FOIA requests. After all, if she didn't do anything wrong then she has nothing to hide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MadAsASnake (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 10:54am

    Just astounding how accurately the FOIA response actually describes the situation:
    - scatter gun approach (this is what the Govt is doing)
    - the response is plainly vexatious
    I wonder what GCHQ has on her?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Klaus, 29 Dec 2015 @ 11:20pm

      Re:

      "...I wonder what GCHQ has on her?"

      Well, if you consider that the current UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, had oral sex with a dead pig, then the scope is extremely broad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 29 Dec 2015 @ 11:00am

    At least I can check off the "Learn something today" box. I learned what 'vexatious' means. And to think I was reading this because my computer game was being very vexatious. Irony.

    I wonder if the UK Home Secretary realizes the irony of her position on metadata?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter, 29 Dec 2015 @ 11:40am

    But....but...but......

    But we are the Gubberment. We make the rules for the little people to follow. What made you think they were ever for us to follow?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 12:29pm

    thing here is we very clearly see may's opinion of how potentially dangerous harvesting this information may be. that she has no concerns for the people whose information she wants harvested is about as close to let them eat cake as you are going to find.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2015 @ 4:00pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:39am

    The nobles do not care for the serfs that get uppity about perceived equality. They only have the rights they are granted by their betters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 8:58am

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

    I wrote a script to combat this. They can have fun trying to figure out if I actually visit bestiality sites, proxies, disposable webmails, [...], porn every few minutes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Protean 8, 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:05pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 31 Dec 2015 @ 5:59am

    You can't spy on me!

    You can't spy on me! I'm the Queen of Spies! Sayeth Madame May...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alan m dransfield, 24 Dec 2016 @ 11:31pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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