Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI acknowledgement of appeal

Today (2005/11/21) I received the following acknowledgement, dated 2005/11/18, via email as a PDF document (containing an image).  This is one week after my appeal that I know they received (see earlier posting).

They appear to be taking the 20 days from the date of their acknowledgement letter instead of the day after they receive the request (or appeal).

It isn’t very exciting so if you are interested, here is a link to the PDF document

More when I have it.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI – The appeal.

Today I appealed against the DETI NI’s refusal to grant my FOI request for details of the BT 100% broadband contract.

Here is the content of the appeal:


Subject: Appeal against decision on FOl 062

Dear Trevor,

Thank you for your letter of 2 November 2005.  It has been a number of
years since we last spoke. I hope all is well with you.

I write to appeal your decision to withhold full responses on questions 1
and 3 of my request. Please understand this email as an official request for
an Internal Review of your decision.

I do not believe that DETINI decision to withhold is either within the
letter nor the spirit of the Law (FOI Act 2000).

Further, Information Commissioner guidance on the law which has been available
to Public bodies for some time (well before your signing of the March 2004
contract with BT) specifically on confidentiality clauses as also been
ignored.
A blanket confidentiality clause does not absolve the department of
its statutory obligations and the Information Commissioner has stated
in the guidance that he would look unfavourably on such blanket clauses.

You should also be aware that general confidentiality and the excuse of
"likely to prejudice BT’s commercial interests" may not apply for companies
who are regarded as a Monopoly.  BT has the country’s largest recognised
monopoly.  The Information Commissioner has also stated this consideration
in the published Awareness Guidelines.
I do not believe that BT, as a monopoly, can possibly be commercially
damaged by the release of any information.

Finally, I do not see any evidence of the Public Interest Test which I
believe you are obligated to complete.  This information has undoubted
public interest.  The department has spent tax payers money on a contract
with BT.  I quote from your department’s own press release:
"This vitally important contract will deliver the Government’s broadband
vision of a fully connected Northern Ireland. In turn it will help
make Northern Ireland more competitive." – Ian Pearson, MP
"This will ensure that Northern Ireland is a seriously attractive area
for existing company expansion and new inward investment." – Bill Murphy, BT
"Broadband access to all rural areas will be a tremendous boost. Many rural
communities have already been campaigning to bring Broadband to their
locality. This demonstrates the demand for the service and having it
available to every household in Northern Ireland will ensure that a
rural /urban divide does not open up." – John Gilliland, UFU
  http://www.detini.gov.uk/cgi-bin/morenews?utilid=433

The department itself recognises this contract of vital importance to
the Northern Ireland economy.

Finally, I note that the department has not yet updated the PDF document
on how to make a FOI request to include the correct email address. I was
assured at the time that this would be taken care of immediately (during
a telephone call from Ian Boyd).
http://www.detini.gov.uk/cgi-bin/downutildoc?id=853

I am also concerned that during the phone call from Ian Boyd that he seemed
to want to know, a) who I was, b) was I a competitor to BT, and  c) to
what purpose I wanted the information.  None of this information is relevant
to any FOI request. To Ian’s credit he did correct himself and said that
it should not matter, however – he should not have asked.  For the record –
I am not in competition with BT or even in the Internet industry any longer
and have not been for a number of years.

Thank you.

Paul Gregg

To await the response.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI – the reply.

Unfortunately, my second FOI request has resulted in my second refusal to disclose the requested information.

Here is an OCRed transcript of the letter I received this morning.   I apologise for any OCR errors – I will check it this evening and convert to PDF / images and correct this post if there are any errors.


2 November 2005

Our Ref: FOl 062

Mr Paul Gregg
xxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx
BT28 xxx

Dear Mr Gregg

Thank you for your e-mail of 13th October in which you requested a number of pieces of information in relation to the delivery of broadband services across Northern Ireland. I shall deal with these in the order requested.

The Department has considered your initial request for a copy of the contract between DETI and BT and has decided not to disclose this information. The reasons for withholding the contract are as follows: the contract itself contains a clause specifically obliging both the Department and the Contractor to treat all information as confidential; and, under Section 41 of the Freedom of Information (FOl) Act, the Department believes that, were such information to be disclosed, this would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. As a secondary consideration we believe that release of certain parts of the contract would be likely to prejudice BT�s commercial interests and are therefore also exempt under s43 of the Act.

You also sought information on �when the Department considers the contract completed�. The end date of the contract is April 2009 and the Department will not be in a position to make an absolute judgment on the issue of completeness until that point in time is reached. However, in operating the contract the Department has a number of milestones to consider, one of which will be in December 2005 when broadband should be available to 100% of the population. In addition, a number of systems are in place to ensure the contract is managed effectively and efficiently, including independent verification that the services are being delivered plus a number of in-house government audit procedures.

Your final request was for information relating to the �penalties and remedies for failure to meet the contracted deadlines�. Details of penalties and remedies form an integral part of the contract and, as already stated the Department believes that release of this information would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. Consequently under Section 41 of the FOI Act the Department has decided not to disclose this information.

For you information I attach a Fact Sheet outlining some of the main provisions of the FOl Act. This also gives details of your right of appeal should you not be satisfied with the response from this Department.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Trevor Forsythe
Telecommunications Policy Unit

Enc

I intend to appeal in the first instance to DETI NI as I do not believe they have correctly followed the Information Commissioner’s guidance on existing confidentiality agreements included in Public Sector contracts.

http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk/cms/DocumentUploads/Pub%20Sec%20Contracts.pdf