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March 2020
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Local Government Employee Fined For Illegally Deleting Item Requested Under Freedom Of Information Act

Furnished content.


Techdirt writes about freedom of information matters often enough. Sadly, many of the stories are about governments and other official bodies refusing to comply with local Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws for various reasons, and using a variety of tricks. In other words, rights to FOI may exist in theory, but the practice falls woefully short. That makes the following story from the UK a welcome exception.It concerns Nicola Young, a local government employee in the English market town of Whitchurch, in Shropshire. Part of her job as town clerk was to handle FOIA requests for the local council. One such request asked for a copy of the audio recording of a council meeting. Apparently the person requesting the file believed that the written minutes of the meeting had been fabricated, and wanted to check them against the recording. However, the reply came back that the file had already been deleted, as was required by the official council policy.Undeterred, the person requesting the file sent a complaint to the UK's main Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which carried out an investigation. The ICO discovered that the town clerk had not only claimed that the audio file had already been deleted when it actually existed, but that she personally deleted it a few days after the FOI request was made. Quite why is not clear, but as a result:

On Wednesday 11 March, Young, of Shrewsbury Street, Whitchurch, Shropshire, was convicted at Crewe Magistrates after pleading guilty to blocking records with the intention of preventing disclosure and was fined 400 [about $490], ordered to pay costs of 1,493 [$1,835] and a victim surcharge 40 [$50].
In its press release on the case, the ICO comments that it "marks the first ever successful conviction under the [UK's] FOIA.". It may be a small victory, but we'll take it.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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People In Kashmir Can't Access Coronavirus Information Because The Government Is Crippling The Internet

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As we've been discussing for a while, India's government has blacked out internet access in Kashmir since around August, setting records for one of the longest government-mandated internet blackouts in history. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to argue that the blackout is a necessary security precaution in the face of growing unrest in the region stemming from its loss of autonomy earlier this year. Granted, like most government internet censorship efforts, the move has a lot more to do with cowardice and fear of an informed public than any genuine concern about public welfare.Despite the Indian Supreme Court declaring such restrictions illegal last January, the problem persists. And as a pandemic threatens the planet, these restrictions are making it hard for the residents of Kashmir to access essential medical information on COVID-19:

Worse, the government, just this week, actually expanded the existing restrictions until March 26, insisting they were necessary to "prevent misuse of social media applications" in the wake of "recent terror activities":
One local tells Buzzfeed the ham-fisted, counterproductive restrictions have made it difficult if not impossible for locals to access information on the rapid spread of COVID-19:
"I can't open even basic websites that provide information and advice about the pandemic, Nayeem Rather, a freelance writer based in Srinagar, the largest city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told BuzzFeed News. Most people in Kashmir don't really have any information about the coronavirus or what is going on in the world right now. It's a crisis."Mir Moien, a medical student from Kupwara, a small town in northern Kashmir, said that the most he's able to do right now is a Google search to find out information about the pandemic. But I can't actually click on any search results to read more, Moien said. On WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app that most Indians use to communicate, most information about the pandemic comes through charts and videos that are impossible to download over the slowed-down 4G networks, according to Moien. It's a catastrophe, he said.
Some authorities have been uploading video alerts to Twitter, but because of the restrictions, most locals can't see them. As a result they're being forced to get all of their information from local news outlets that seem largely interested in artificially inflating the accomplishments of regional politicians. In turn, rumors and dis/misinformation are spreading quickly via Whatsapp and word of mouth, with no ability for citizens to research and confirm the claims. As a result, the local population there doesn't understand the scope of the pandemic threat, and many lack access to information that could protect the region from harm.Governments that engage in such heavy-handed internet censorship and filtering may feel like they're in control, but this is yet another example of how such ham-fisted restrictions actively undermine society as a whole.

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