10 September 2012

A 41,000 to one chance

Birmingham is famous for Baltis. This meal from Adil's.

There are about 41,000 employees at Birmingham City Council.

Mr Mustard's alter ego made a FOI request to Birmingham C.C. on 10 August and on which they have faffed about, asking for clarification of a simple request for a copy contract, then releasing just a pre-contractual document, a specification, then sending some annexes which had the name of the applicant added into the documents as a footer (a sneaky move in case they were passed on, they could be traced back) and then sending what was meant to be the rest of the Contract but it wasn't and none of the documents were the signed ones so could have changed before the actual signatures were added. A painful process which has seen emails back and forth over 5 separate days including today.

FOI requests are meant to be answered under the rules that they are motive and applicant blind (i.e. bloggers get the same factual answer as everybody else). The Information Tribunal has stated:

"FOIA is, however, applicant and motive blind. It is about disclosure to the public, and public interests. It is not about specified individuals or private interests."

Mr Mustard keeps an eye on who visits his blog, and the Famous Five blog, and what search terms are used. When anyone at Birmingham City Council lands on a blog he knows. The search came from the computer with address which is Birmingham City Council - Service Birmingham Ltd a JV between Capita and the council to provide their computers. The search term was the name of Mr Mustard's alter ego and the search came from a computer using Internet Explorer 8, Windows 7 and with a screen resolution of 1440 by 900.

Unless there happens to be another employee at Birmingham City Council who just happened to search for another person of the same name and landed on the blog by accident, although the name is thought to be unique in the UK, then the FOI officer has googled him. It has taken 3 people at the council so far to fail to answer a simple question for a copy contract (one that Barnet Council managed to answer in a mere 5 months except that part of the answer has gone missing and there are some redactions which Mr Mustard has to think about) and Mr Mustard has challenged the two most recent respondents and one has said that it was not her. She is far too busy to carry out research (well done - correct answer, and also irrelevant to her job).

Let us see what the other one says.

Mr Mustard doesn't mind FOI officers looking up his details but only after they have answered his questions on an applicant blind basis and he suggests they do it at home so they don't show up in the search trail.

Barnet Council have described Mr Mustard looking up staff using google as akin to cyber-stalking. Mr Mustard has instructed Birmingham City Council that they may not communicate with Barnet Council but should you get a request Barnet Council you will have to tell Birmingham CC that you can't answer any questions that emanate from their "cyber-stalking".

What might the Information Commissioner have to say about this? 

Birmingham City Council would be well advised to now work their socks off to provide the entire Contract with exempted items redacted before a complaint gets made.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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