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
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

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).

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
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


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.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI on BT 100% broadband deal

Tony writes over on his blog about several of his FOI requests.

It seems he is having a better time than myself with DETI.

Exactly 20 (business) days ago I emailed DETI NI to request information pertaining to the contract they awared BT to provide 100% Broadband coverage for Northern Ireland before the end of 2005.

That date is getting close and so far it isn’t there. So I wondered what penalties were in the contract if BT failed to achieve the target date.  This information is also very much in the public interest, so I intended to publish it here also.

So the 20 days have come and gone and DETI NI are a no show.  Thus I have a right to complain directly to the Information Commissioner – "failure to respond to your request within 20 working days (or failure to explain why longer than 20 working days is needed)".  But they also make a point of saying you needed to supply a copy of the complaint to the body also, so to ensure DETI NI have a chance to rectify the situation I am complaining to them first.  I’m not sure how long I’ll leave the complaint with them but I expect they should come back to me pretty quickly.  This time, instead of emailing, I used their online form so they have no excuses.

I have enclosed a copy of the original request below, and the complaint below that.

Subject: Freedom of Information Act: Request for details of BT 100% Broadband contract
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 14:05:17 +0100

Dear sirs,

In March 2004, DETI NI awarded a contract to BT to deliver 100% broadband
coverage to Northern Ireland before the end of 2005

"By the end of 2005 every household and every business in Northern Ireland,
no matter how remote, will have access to broadband at the same price."
– IO Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Ian Pearson MP, March 2004
announcing the deal.

This request under the FoI is for the following information:

1. Copy of the contract awarded to BT and any subcontractors
2. Details of when DETI considers the contract completed.
3. Penalties and remedies for failure to meet the contracted deadlines.

I believe that the nature of this contract and its vital importance to the
NI economy would mean that this information passes the "Public Interest
Test" and you should not be able to claim any exemptions.

I can be reached via:
Address:        Paul Gregg
                      xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Address details removed :)

Email:          xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Telephone:      xxx xxxx xxxx

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Gregg

PS. Your document explaining how to make a FoI request does not
include your email address.  I trust you will correct this omission.

Pursuant to the Publication Scheme and your duty onder the Freedom of Information Act I am writing to complain about your failure to acknowledge or respond to my FOI request of Thursday 15 September 2005, 20 business days ago.

Mail server logs confirmed that your system accepted the email which was sent to

Yours faithfully,

Paul Gregg
(copy of original request was sent with the complaint

Buy the Whitehouse, get an SQL injection attack

The Internet casino and poker house bought up the only known deed for The White House as reported by The Inquirer.

Except that the link that the inq uses to get to the page telling the story at revealed a little more information than they should have.   Because the URL on the inq was mistyped – they tried to make two links but only made one broken one.

When I clicked on the link: %20and%20here%20[ I received an error page that was obviously the result of an unchecked contentID being passed right from the url into the SQL.

This is a classic case of unchecked user supplied data being trusted which leads to a compromise in security and some very red faces when some naughty people get hold of it.

I hope they fix it soon.

Freedom of Information, Request #1, The reply.

It was remiss of me not to follow up on my earlier FOI post (thanks Tony for the prompt).  Rather than just post the reply as a comment to that post (it’ll never be seen), I will post it here.

Basically they decided to withhold the information as it pertains to current policy discussion.

Here is a GIF of the response (resized):

Full size version can be found here

Shame really.

Belfast Zoo: Escaped Ringtailed Lemur

This didn’t hit the press – but I guess an escaped Lemur isn’t quite as scary as an escaped Lion.

I took the kids to the Zoo this past Bank Holiday Monday – pretty normal trip to the zoo as zoo trips go.  However, nearing the end I came across this escaped Ringtailed Lemur sitting in a tree outside a monkey enclosure.

I was able to walk right up to him and get my camera to within about 1 foot of him and take some great shots.

More pictures (and higher quality) are available over on my Gallery site.

Damn forum / web log / blog comment spammers.

It got so bad over the past few days that I was regularly deleting 5+ posts a day advertising the latest gamling establishment or where to get the cheapest erectile medications. So as with all good reasons for doing some programming – being pissed off – I wrote some captcha code that will display an image of some text that you have to enter to authorise the post.

The image/captcha is not there if you create an account, so please do so.

Oh, and for those interested, I coded it from scratch without outside 3rd party code and merged it into my existing 3rd party punbb forum code.  Total time, approx 1 hour.

Free Credit Card

Those of you who regularly read this tome (thanks mum!) may be aware that I recently applied for an Alliance & Leicester Premier Plus account with Credit Card.  Story is over here.

As I noted, when I read the Terms & Conditions (that they send out to you to get a real signature since I applied online) I decided I did not like the Credit Card terms and scrawled a large C-A-N-C-E-L-L-E-D across that particular "agreement" and did not sign it.

So imagine my surprise at what arrived in this morning’s post:

How is it possible for a bank to hand out a credit card in this way?

Apparently I now have 5 days to cancel this "agreement" that I never made.  I guess I better at least try to cancel ‘by the book’ or watch my credit rating go to hell.

Redesigned my homepage

For all those reading this via a rss feed, returning users or new users (who won’t have noticed) I spent several hours tonight messing around with a graphics package trying to redo the design of the "header" of my web site.   It’s a million times better than the old version that has been there for at least the last 5 years.

I welcome comments on it (yes I know the mouseovers don’t work on the menus – actually they do, I just need to create the _on versions of the gif).

Credit Card caution – Where did these “Late fees” come from?

Last week I applied online for an Alliance & Leicester Premier Plus account.  I’m already a happy A&L customer and thought – great and Internet banking offer with decent interest rates.

Application filled in and checked the box asking for their Mastercard which provides money back on purchases.  A few days later I received the paperwork that they send out to get signatures.  All very well until I decided to read the small print that came with the "Congratulations on being accepted" letter + forms to sign.

On the credit card it said "You agree to be charged �25 if you are late in paying your credit card bill by one day".  Excuse me? Late fees?   I thought the late fees that the CC companies enjoyed were the nice fat interest rates that they charged on the full amount of the balance for the month if you did not clear the balance.

I scrawled a large C-A-N-C-E-L-L-E-D across the CC form and sent it back.  I’ll never take out a credit card that employs such underhand methods in ripping off customers.

Bootnote: It seems that in the USA several of these CC companies (including MBNA who provide The A&L card) have been successfully sued/settled Class Action suits against them for their operation of these late fees systems.  In the UK, which has already slammed these companies and UK’s Office of Fair Trading is investigating.

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