Saturday, 13 September 2008

Freedom of Information Disclosures Have Been 'Googled'

You might imagine that when documents have been released, following a Freedom of Information request, that personal details would always be blanked out. Not so.

Sometimes civil and public servants take the trouble to blank out personal details using, say, non-transparent ink; sometimes they just photocopy the complete document in its original state and pop it in the post or scan it electronically and despatch it as an email attachment.

Sometimes they use software to blank out/redact information electronically before they publish documents on the internet; sometimes these files then go into Google cache unredacted and clicking on 'View in HTML' reveals the document intacta, personal details and all.

You might wonder how widespread these problems are and it's possible that no one can tell you. It's quite likely that many Government and Information Commission officials are blithely unaware of the power of Google and other internet search engines!!

PS Sometimes official documents are sent out by mistake, including documents you wouldn't expect a particular department or, indeed, a particular government to have. But that's a story for another day ...

Adds October 1

Commissioner warns of identity fraud danger

Speaking from the ICO's new office in Belfast city centre, Mr McCrory said that recent blunders – particularly the loss last year of 25 million taxpayer's records by on two discs posted by HMRC – had increased awareness of why it is crucial to protect personal information.

But he said it was concerning that many were still somewhat blasé about to whom they give personal information.

News Letter, 24 September 2008

FoI files are to be 'made public'

ASSEMBLY departments and public bodies will soon be forced to reveal their Freedom of Information (FoI) disclosures on their website.
At present, information released to an individual is not seen by anyone else – unless it is passed to a journalist.

But Aubrey McCrory, who heads up the Information Commissioner's Office in Belfast, said that he now expects public bodies to publish responses to every FoI request on their websites.

News Letter 25 September 2008
Presumably the 'accidental' release of personal information will increase as disclosures are made more widely available.