Monday, July 07, 2014

Still sinister

Last month, I blogged about the police's unlawful response to an OIA request sent to them via FYI. Faced with a request for a police's officer's identity from their badge number - a clear requirement of the Peelian Principles which provide the foundation of our policing culture - the police demanded that the requester fill out a form in person at a police station while providing ID, then refused to accept any further correspondence via FYI.

In addition to publicising the issue, I also filed a parallel request direct to Greg Waters (the officer who had given that outrageous refusal), seeking the same information by email. And so today I received a phone call from them about the request. Normally, when government agencies call me about a request, they're trying to be helpful, seeking clarification, or explaining an extension of the timeframe. This OTOH was quite aggressive, seeking to find out if I had any connection to FYI, why I wanted the information, and what I planned to do with it. The subject of the request - the mysterious officer NWJ012 - was apparently a very senior police officer with a lot of experience, and they were concerned about their privacy (because police officers shouldn't have names). The overwhelming impression was of the police trying to protect their own from the law. As with my previous experience, it was vaguely sinister. The police are clearly still operating under a paradigm where requesters have to justify themselves to people in uniform, rather than the other way round. And that's just not good enough.

As for the request itself, I've been told I'll get a response, which is a step up from the way the FYI requester was treated. As for the merits, its difficult to see how merely linking a name to a badge number would significantly infringe privacy (especially in light of the public interest in accountability), or credibly engage the interests protected by s6(d) (endangering safety) or 9(g)(ii) (protecting officials from improper pressure or harassment). Despite this, I expect the police to try and refuse the request, and to have to challenge that refusal through the Ombudsman.