Murderers abuse Freedom of Information

Journalists requesting data under the Freedom of Information Act are waiting in line with murderers and convicted criminals, queuing to find details on the informants who jailed them.

The Home Office has reportedly warned that the worrying trend includes detailed requests by criminals and murderers trying to expose witnesses and police collaborators.

The abusive requests are typically made by a family member or friend of the criminal, in a bid to disguise the real reason for the information’s release into the public domain.

According to The Independent, some of the requests seek detailed information on undercover police operations, forensic techniques or the steps used to finally trace and apprehend the criminal party.

Speaking to the newspaper, police revealed that over 100 convicted criminals are thought to have requested information from public bodies, including The Home Office.

Yet they also stressed that such illicit FOI requests made up only a tiny proportion of the 22,000 applications police dealt with in England and Wales last year.

“We get a lot of requests about individual cases, not just murders,” said Paul Brooks, Association of the Chief Police Officers' project manager for the Freedom of Information Act.

“They [the offenders] will dig into a case and go after any information they can get hold of. If you are not careful, material could be released inadvertently that gave away the identity of an informer.”

Under the Act, public bodies are outlawed to release any information that could be deemed sensitive, such as any data relating to police informants.

“We are picking these requests up before they get very far,” added Chief Insp Brooks, before recommending that the senior investigating officer for the relevant case needs to be involved.

More than 100,000 public authorities are covered by the UK Act: government departments, the devolved assemblies, local councils, the NHS, the police, the armed forces, schools and universities, regulators, advisory committees, museums, quangos, the BBC, Channel 4 and Parliament itself.

Next month, freelance journalists are invited to a practical training course in London, designed to teach users how to best navigate the Act and avoid its potential pitfalls.

Led by the Freedom of Information Campaign director, Maurice Frankel, the £50 course covers freelancers working in journalism, research, campaigns and citizens advice, among other sectors.



 

25th April 2006

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