A three-month ordeal with the Identity and Passport Service has left me wondering how on earth this bureaucracy intends to manage the personal details of 60 million Britons when it not only loses FOI requests but even FOI Officers!
On 29th August I made an FOI request for a documentary I was working on. I asked the IPS for the Gateway review and costings for the National ID card and a list of all those working on the ID card project and their status (eg full-time, part-time, on secondment). For all those on secondment, I asked for the sponsoring firm. What resulted from the three months’ wait?
In brief – a whole lotta nothing. Amazingly, the IPS has tried to claim that NO ONE is working on the ID card project. So exactly who is getting the £32 million the Government has already spent preparing for ID cards even before the law was enacted?
The ID card project is a costly and controversial policy. Just how costly? Well the Home Office itself admitted that it would cost £5.4bn to set up and run over the next decade. A more accurate figure comes from the London School of Economics report last year which put the cost at £19.2bn over the first 10 years of the project. For such a large amount of taxpayers’ money, the IPS has no excuse for its continued refusal to tell the public how its money is being spent.
Timeline of an FOI request to Identity & Passport Service
29 August 2006 – Email request to address on IPS Publication Scheme
26 September – Working-day deadline passes
2 October – Telephone and leave message for FOI Officer Denis O’Brien
3 October, 10am – Denis O’Brien returns telephone call. “I must admit I haven’t seen it. I can only apologise. We have had some emails go astray in our transition to a new address. I’m not really sure why the emails were lost or how many we lost.” He gives me a new address. This email also returns as undeliverable.
3 October 11am – I telephone Mr O’Brien and send the request to his personal email while he waits to receive it. When the message goes through, he says he will deal with it as soon as possible. So far, even though mistakes were made, the direct contact assures me that there is some level of accountability at the IPS.
10 Oct – Still no word
18 October, 10am – Telephone the usual number. Colleagues say Denis has moved to Marsham Street and has no phone. He’s working on a mobile but we don’t have the number.’ I send Mr O’Brien an email checking the status of my request.
19 October – Still no word, so I call the Home Office Press Office to find out what has happened to the missing request and now the missing FOI Officer.
23 October – Receive a series of internal emails about my attempt to find out what’s happened to my request in which one of the IPS staff says: “She’s not the most supportive of journalists so Peter will need an answer/lines quickly please.” And another says “Eek. Has there been a malfunction here?”
30 November – FOIA request answered in the negative and signed by anonymous person with no direct contact details.
13 December – I file an internal review against the IPS’ decision to refuse.