Freesteel Blog » Section 44 Terrorism Act MPS Complaint to the ICO

Section 44 Terrorism Act MPS Complaint to the ICO

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 at 9:14 am Written by:

Spent all night compiling the documents and filling in the form. Text included below. Most of the time was spent pasting the text out of the correspondence in WhatDoTheyKnow.com and editing out all those crappy line breaks that you get in the crappy email convention that we have been stuffed with. Now back to work.

Complainant: Julian Todd
Public Authority: Metropolitan Police Service
Complaint: Refusal to disclose durations of Section 44 Terrorism Act authorisations under FOI Act

This complaint concerns an FOI request I made to the Metropolitan Police Service on 18 May 2009 for:

* the list of durations of police authorisations for Section 44 Terrorism Act (stop and search powers),
* whether it was a renewal, and
* the time it took for the Secretary of State to confirm the authorisation, if it was confirmed.

My request was refused on the basis that (a) it would take too long to manually compile the data, and (b) it would reveal intelligence about geographical areas that could be useful to terrorists.

Neither of these reasons are valid considering facts obtained through earlier FOI requests. Specifically, I know that (a) the information is in a database with the necessary fields to satisfy my request without manual effort, and (b) my request had no geographical component.

The original correspondence of this request up to the final refusal on 28 August is available at:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/summary_durations_of_section_44
I have reproduced it in document sec44durationsMPS.rtf.

Background to Section 44

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows police forces around the country to self-authorise stop and search powers if a ranking officer “considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.”

In order to provide oversight to these powers, Sections 44 to 46 stipulate the process by which such authorisations must be communicated to the Secretary of State and officially confirmed if they are to run for more than 48 hours. Authorisations must be renewed every 28 days. At no point in this process are any security bodies mentioned.

Although statements and reports have been made to Parliament regarding the numbers of people searched under this Act, I have not seen any information about the quantity, frequency and extent of these areas, how much evidence is required for the police to authorise one, and whether or not the Home Secretary has ever turned down an authorisation in the last nine years.

There is a perception among some who have been stopped under these powers that they are a tool of convenience rather than expediency in relation to a terrorist threat.

Prior FOI Requests to the Home Office

On 10 July 2008 I outlined a request to the Home Office for all the information that Sections 44 to 46 Terrorism Act 2000 requires them to receive when a police authorisation is made.
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/section_44_terrorism_act_areas

The request was refused on 1 September 2008 on grounds of cost on the basis that all the records were on paper and not in a database.

On 5 September 2008 I made another request to the Home Office for the bureaucratic procedures and form paperwork used in the process of receiving a notification from a police force, recording it, and obtaining confirmation from the Home Secretary.
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/section_44_terrorism_act_bureauc

I outlined in my letter that my underlying intention was to ascertain at what point information was entered into a database from which statistical records could be derived for the purpose of informing me, the Secretary of State, or Parliament, should anyone be concerned with the overall functioning of the Act.

I received a refusal from the Home Office on 26 November 2008 on the basis that such information would “prejudice the free and frank exchange of information and the effective conduct of public affairs.” The internal review confirming this answer was finally completed on 2 April 2009.

FOI Requests to the Metropolitan Police Service

From a report by Lord Carlile on the operation of the Act, I was able to discover that the procedure for communicating notifications of Section 44 authorisations to the Secretary of State involved sending them to the National Joint Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service.

On 28 November 2008 I requested blank copies of forms required for compliance with the Act, the structure of the database they recorded the notifications within, and the contents of the database from the Metropolitan Police Service.
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/section_44_terrorism_act_authori
The correspondence of this request is reproduced in document sec44authorisationsMPS.rtf.

The request was refused on 17 December 2008 on the basis of incomplete arguments involving national security and law enforcement.

I sent my case for a review on 31 December 2008 and finally received a further response on 14 May 2009 overturning parts of the refusal and providing me with hard evidence that there was indeed a database into which information about all Section 44 notifications was being entered.

(My subsequent 18 May request obtained a screenshot of the user interface of this database:)
foiextract.8059.0-1_1
The refusal included the lengthy argument that disclosure of any information about the geographical extent of these areas was going to be detrimental to the public interest.

This resulted in my 18 May request — about which I am making the complaint — for the contents of this database excluding any geographical or intelligence information, and only requesting knowledge about the durations of the requests and how regularly the Secretary of State confirms them.

1 Comment

  • 1. Freesteel&hellip replies at 2nd June 2010, 9:30 pm :

    […] So they declared one of these police stop and search zones around the whole of London, and get him to sign it each month. Here is part of his schedule: [earlier documentation of this FOI is documented here] […]

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