Vox Political welcomes The Independent to ‘Club Vexatious’ due to FOI request on Theresa May’s internet history

Theresa May: She wants to see your Internet history but thinks she can use the Freedom of Information Act to hide her own. She is, of course, wrong.

Theresa May: She wants to see your Internet history but thinks she can use the Freedom of Information Act to hide her own. She is, of course, wrong.

Welcome to ‘Club Vexatious’, Independent! And, guess what? It seems the government has misused the Freedom of Information Act in your case.

The request for Home Secretary Theresa May’s work browsing history (omitting security matters), is not – on the face of it – vexatious. The reason given for claiming it was is the burden on the public authority, but there are very specific conditions attached to that.

According to the Information Commissioner’s guidance, a request creating “unreasonable burden” is defined as one in which “the effort required to meet [it] will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester.”

Obviously this cannot apply to the simple act of copying and pasting an Internet ‘history’ list and cutting out the security stuff.

The guidance adds that “Section 14(1) is concerned with the nature of the request rather than the consequences of releasing the requested information. If an authority is concerned about any possible prejudice which might arise from disclosure, then it will need to consider whether any of the exemptions listed in Part II of the Act apply.”

So concerns about “what might be revealed” are utterly irrelevant.

If the Independent hasn’t already made a request for reconsideration, then the newspaper’s editorial team need to get onto that straight away. Afterwards, if the response is the same (and it probably will be, then it’s an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

This Writer can almost guarantee that the Independent will win and the government will lose. Considering the context – the fact that Theresa May wants access to all of our Internet histories, the effect should hugely undermine the Conservative Party’s credibility.

The Home Office has refused to make Theresa May’s internet browsing history public under freedom of information rules, arguing that a request to do so is “vexatious”.

The Independent requested the Home Secretary’s work browsing history for the last week of October under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the new Investigatory Powers Bill announced by Ms May the internet browsing history of everyone in the UK will have to be stored for a year and police and security services will be able to access the list of visited websites without any warrant.

The Home Secretary described such information, which her department refused to release in relation to her, as “the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill”. Itemised phone bills have previously been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Freedom of Information Act is in theory supposed to allow for information held by government bodies to be disclosed, subject to certain conditions.

On 4 November the Independent invoked the Act to ask the Home Office to disclose “‘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”.

The only reason given by officials against disclosure of Ms May’s browsing history was that the request for transparency was a “scattergun” approach conducted “without any idea of what might be revealed”.

If the Department had agreed to the request, it would have shown a list of websites visited on the Home Secretary’s computer account for a week.

“We have considered your request and we believe it 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,” officials said in a response.

“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.”

Officials were told in the request that they could exclude any information related to security matters – so that this could not be used as an excuse to deny disclosure.

The Home Office did not reply to the request within the legal deadline, but eventually provided a response refusing to release the information.

Source: Theresa May wants to see your internet history, so we thought it was only fair to ask for hers | UK Politics | News | The Independent

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14 thoughts on “Vox Political welcomes The Independent to ‘Club Vexatious’ due to FOI request on Theresa May’s internet history

  1. mohandeer

    Why do the British people allow this and previous governments dictate double standards which entitle the government in direct contravention of our rights to privacy to snoop. When those same standards which require far less financing are not available to the public who pay for it.(The government doesn’t earn it’s own wages, everything is paid for out of taxes of one kind or another which comes out of our pocket, earned or paid for by us). Why do we have no entitlement, except when the government condescends or deigns to allow our requests? If the people do not act soon, then we will have no freedoms left and the dictatorship will be complete.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      That is a matter for the Independent. I have advised the paper’s staff to request reconsideration and, if that fails, appeal to the Information Commissioner.

  2. hayfords

    That is an interesting thing to do. I have been looking into the method of making an FOI request. I am thinking of requesting the palace of Westminster discloses the web browser history of all web browsers on Jeremy Corbyn’s GSI network account since becoming leader of the opposition. I guess that should be possible bearing in mind he now has an official post for the first time.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Be aware, you could only request the history of Internet use carried out in his capacity as leader of the Labour Party and, even then, information relating to national security would have to be omitted for obvious reasons.
      You could do that, sure. Of course, it would be missing the point.
      You see, this has shown that Theresa May wants access to the internet histories of every single UK citizen – but won’t allow us to know what she has been doing with her own official account, let alone any private accounts she may have. It is appallingly hypocritical and leaves her vulnerable to accusations that we have a Home Secretary who thinks she should not be subject to her own laws.

      1. hayfords

        Theresa May only requires access to internet history etc with cause, I.E. suspicion of malpractice, terrorism etc. There is no requirement to view emails, internet history, phone calls without a reason. In the modern age, it is essential to have access to electronic data by the security services. They might as well have legal access to the data as they will almost certainly access it anyway. The requirement for ISPs to maintain histories is a red herring. They can construct the histories themselves from analysis of traffic that they store. In times of terrorism, no one should expect privacy of communications.

        I think John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor looks to be a good candidate for an FOI as well.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Your first paragraph is very well regurgitated from Tory propaganda.
        In fact, ISPs would indeed have to maintain histories as the burden on their time and resources involved in reconstructing from analysis of traffic would be too great. It’s the excuse the government uses against FoI requests so the government should not expect to be treated any better.

  3. Thomas

    One law for them and one law for the rest of us. It would seem that now when I buy I-tunes songs, the data including my card details would have to be retained-meaning that hackers could get my details and empty my account.

  4. Alan M Dransfield

    I am the original founder of the Vexatious Club. See GIA3037/2011/ Dransfield v ICO .
    The Supreme Court recently upheld this Vexatiou BS hence RIP at the FOIA

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Yes indeed – your case is referenced in the Information Commissioner’s guidance.
      Actually, in contrast to the two of us, I think the Independent might actually win an appeal – for the reasons I state in the article.

      1. Alan M Dransfield

        Mike
        At this juncture, I have not received a copy of the Supreme Courts decision on my vexatious case but I am reliably informed by the ICO that the SC have refused my application of appeal. No doubt I will receive the appropriate paperwork in the new year?!
        The ICO have already billed me £2800 for costs.
        My intention is to appeal against the SC to the ECOHR .
        In essence, the SC have rubber stamped a get out of jail free card for rogue PA’s.
        I notice with a wry smile the latest Rogue Authority to use the Dransfield vexatious precedent is the Ministry of Justice.

        In my view the Court of Appeal AND the Supreme Court are working in concort to GAG Joe Public.

  5. fathomie

    There is of course that very issue. Once that information is handed over to the govt can we trust them with it? The answer, going on the last five years is an unequivocal no. Not only will it be handed over to ‘interested parties’, but can we trust them to actually, physically not lose it? Again, with the amount of leaks under the last three govts, not on your life.

    Sadly, the usual numpties with their cry of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ will allow the govt to get their way. Hopefully they will be among the first to be saturated with advertisers, businesses offering them endless deals, or even better, and as Davis rightly warned, MI5 sending them a little ‘reminder’ of those emails to their lover, that goat porn, that dodgy purchase, and ‘requesting’ they do something ‘for their country’.

    It happened, and it will happen. The security services, contrary to what my local MP claims, serve themselves first, us second.

Comments are closed.