UK Forum Hands Out Public Records Request-Dodging Guidance To Over 100 Government Agencies

from the keep-calm-and-redact-fully dept

Freedom of information laws have given the public a peek inside the government agencies that were always supposed to be accountable to the public. Obviously, these laws have never been welcomed by government agencies. Plenty of documents have been released showing just how much of your tax dollars governments are wasting. But some of the most frustrating wastes are the tax dollars expended to keep documents out of the public's hands.

Most of that spending takes the form of playing defense against public records lawsuits. But some of it comes from preventative steps taken to keep as much information away from citizens as possible. Andrew Norton points us to a document leaked to a Kent (UK) press outlet which instructs Kent government entities how to keep the public as unaware as possible of the government's Brexit contingency plans.

The report - marked as ‘sensitive’ and updated last month - cited guidance issued by DExEU that councils and other organisations should refuse Freedom of Information requests about emergency planning and in some circumstances should not even confirm whether they hold information.

In a section headed “How to respond to Brexit-related FOI Requests” the report says Local Resilience Forums or individual partner organisations that receive FOI requests should respond by saying disclosure would not be in the public interest as it “would undermine the effective conduct of public affairs.”

Where requests were about specific details about plans on a particular subject or relevant to an area, the authority should refuse to even confirm or deny if it held information.

Included in the non-transparency packet were fill-in-the-blank boilerplate FOI reject forms, giving agencies a more efficient means of walking away from their obligations to the public. If vague wording about "undermining effective conduct" might appear to be insufficient to guarantee opacity, the template also contained blanket statements to justify the deployment of a UK Glomar.

Considering the percentage of the Kent public affected by the Brexit (roughly 100%), details about contingency plans would be the very definition of "public interest." And yet, the Kent government figures the less people know, the easier it will be to do things the public possibly wouldn't support. The blanket of opacity the Kent Resilience Forum has spread is impressive. According to Kent Online, the Forum consists of over 100 government organizations, including law enforcement, emergency services, and national security agencies. That's a lot of people implicitly agreeing to lock the public out of the Brexit discussion -- none of which felt compelled to speak out against the Forum's guidance.

Filed Under: guidance, public records, transparency, uk


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 2:43am

    I believe they think (with some fair share of evidence supporting it) that the public are just a bunch of dumbasses. Because these shenanigans are getting increasingly hard to hide and they (the Govt) only look like a bunch of thugs, mafia crowd with such actions.

    Of course there's still a good portion of the population that will keep electing the same politicians and not demanding the end of such behaviors so they can still get away with it but damn, at least don't be so clear about your contempt towards the citizens.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 4 Feb 2019 @ 5:32am

      Re:

      "the public are just a bunch of dumbasses"

      Until elections throw out the politicians that are allowing this behavior, they are absolutely right.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 7:44am

        Re: Re:

        ... and government is made up of people from the public

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

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 5 Feb 2019 @ 2:33am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I can conform there is a fair amount of dumbassery in this country due to people relying on the popular press for information, on their feelings, and on groupthink. Actually thinking for yourself is discouraged so you've got to be willing to lose friends and alienate people if you don't walk with the herd.

          There are people I can't discuss Brexit with because it's such a sacred cow to them. Seriously, don't get me started...!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 3:19am

    'They're peasants, why would we, the nobility, care?'

    And yet, the Kent government figures the less people know, the easier it will be to do things the public possibly wouldn't support. The blanket of opacity the Kent Resilience Forum has spread is impressive.

    Given the stonewalling and stance of 'the less the public knows the better we are', I think it would be safe to swap out 'possibly' for 'almost certainly' as the default assumption.

    When they reach the point where they are handing out tips on how best to refuse to hand over information to the public there's only two possibilities I can think of, neither of them good. They are either engaged in behavior that they know the public they (theoretically) serve would not approve of, and/or they've reached the point where they consider themselves above the public, and see no need to answer to it or consider it at all important.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 5:18am

      Re: 'They're peasants, why would we, the nobility, care?'

      When they last got to that point, I believe we here in America called them on it and kicked their asses. Hopefully, they still wear bright colored uniforms and fight in block formations as they attack their constituents.

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

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 5:39am

        Re: Re: 'They're peasants, why would we, the nobility, care?'

        To be fair, Washington's army fought the same exact way. He was trained in the traditional European manner of war, and felt that if you fought like the Indians, you'd lose like the Indians. That's why Washington lost most battles. The only thing he really did right was keep the army going, causing Britain to eventually lose because it cost too much to win.

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

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 6:35am

    Let's hope these examples will be raised in discussions ...

    ... next time the nothing-to-hide--nothing-fear - apostles want to ratchet up surveillance laws.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 7:08am

    Over reaction?

    Britain is negotiating with the EU and does not want to reveal its hand.

    Seems sorta reasonable to me. So long as the documents are made available after the whole shitshow is over.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 7:40am

      Re: Over reaction?

      How can they claim to represent the people if they keep what they are doing secret? It is too late for people to tell politicians what they want, or whether the deal is acceptable, after the deal has been made.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Hero, 4 Feb 2019 @ 8:06am

        Re: Re: Over reaction?

        How can they claim to represent the people if they keep what they are doing secret?

        These are not mutually exclusive (in theory). In practice, they tend to be, but it would be easy (though perhaps not satisfying) to argue that UK politicians are representing the people by implementing Brexit in the first place, even if citizens are kept in the darkness about the implementation.

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

    • icon
      Adrian Cherry (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 12:54pm

      Re: Over reaction?

      They don't need to make them available after the whole shitshow is over.

      In 2 months time they're going to have to implement the contingency plans anyway so we'll find out if they were worth the paper they were written on.

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

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 5 Feb 2019 @ 2:34am

      Re: Over reaction?

      Britain doesn't have a hand. It's on its knees lying to the public in the name of democracy.

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

  • identicon
    Capt Obvious, 4 Feb 2019 @ 7:45am

    They must have something to hide

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 4 Feb 2019 @ 8:04am

    Quick Question

    What contingencies are these plans addressing?

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

    • icon
      Jono793 (profile), 5 Feb 2019 @ 4:18pm

      Re: Quick Question

      Contingencies to deal with the absolute shit-show of a no-deal Brexit. Which will happen if the Govt, Parliament, and the rest of the EU can't agree a deal before ... checks notes 54 DAYS from now. (I need to stock up on canned food).

      Among other things, we will have no legal framework under which to import or export goods to the rest of the EU. No legal framework to allow travel into our out of the rest of the EU. No legal framework to prevent Ireland from descending back into bloody violence when they try and impose a hard border. Etc. etc.

      But it's all good! Among contingency planning efforts revealed so far, the government gave £13 million to a company called Seaborn Freight to set up a ferry service. A company which incorporated less than a year ago. And owns no ships. Or any assets of any description. And whose website's terms of service was stolen from a pizza delivery company....

      it'll all be fine, i'm sure!

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 4 Feb 2019 @ 11:18am

    Expecting a native attack

    Yep, looks like they're circling the wagons.

    ...is that even a concept in the UK?

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


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