• Foreign Office staff Googled Kennard and shared links to his profile pages on the Guardian, openDemocracy and Wikipedia
  • A government official noted “it appears ‘Kennard’ intends to make the information as public as possible”
  • Separately, the Cabinet Office, which supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has internally referenced Kennard 1,900 times in 18 months

Emails from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs obtained by Declassified show that government officials collected data on organization journalist Matt Kennard before deciding not to disclose information to him.

Requests made under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are meant to be “blind requester” and answered “without reference to the identity or motives of the requester”.

Kennard submitted a request in August last year for information on Foreign Ministry programs in the South American country of Bolivia. The first email from the Foreign Office dealing with the request appears to answer a question from its Americas unit about Kennard’s identity.

“A Google search brings up a number of [Kennard’s] links to journals like the Guardian etc ”reads the internal e-mail of the Information Rights Unit, which deals with requests from the public.

He noted “we always assume there is a certain journalistic angle,” before posting links to Kennard’s profile pages at Guardian, openDemocracy and Wikipedia sites.

A few hours later, the rejection was sent to the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the note “”The applicant appears to be a journalist”. It is assumed that these words are underlined because they contain a hyperlink to one of Kennard’s profile pages.

Another e-mail from the Foreign Office, regarding a different request for information, again pointed out that Kennard “appears to be a reporter.”

Tom Short, a lawyer at Leigh Day law firm specializing in human rights, said Declassified: “Everyone has the right to know the activities of public authorities, whatever they are or the reason for which they seek information. This is a fundamental principle of government accountability in a democratic society. As a result, FOIA is clear that requests should be treated as a target and the requester blind.

He added: “A public authority should focus on the information sought, not on who asks for it – disclosure to a single requester is after all effectively disclosure to the world. “

“Who is the applicant? “

Another round of Kennard’s background checks was sparked by a new Freedom of Information request, this time regarding meetings of then Prime Minister Tony Blair with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the early 2000s.

The Russian unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent an e-mail: “I have heard from [British Embassy] Moscow, and they had some questions about it [information request]: Who is the applicant? Is the information intended for internal use or for a member of the public? “

Shortly thereafter, the Information Rights Unit responded, claiming the requester was Kennard. The Russian unit then sent an email to an unspecified Foreign Ministry account stating: “In summary, it appears that the… request is from a member of the public who intends to return the information as well. public as possible. The rest of the email is censored.

The Foreign Office eventually leaked a heavily redacted copy of the briefing notes for Putin’s meeting, but the notes prepared for Blair’s meetings with Assad have still not been released nine months later.

Attorney Short said: “When a public authority takes into account or highlights the identity of a requester when processing a request for information, it will almost certainly act unlawfully under FOIA, but may also violate data protection laws as this may constitute unlawful processing of personal data. The data. “

He added: “Treating requests in this way completely undermines the freedom of information regime and is nothing less than an attack on democratic accountability.”

‘Surveillance’

The British government’s profiling of Kennard appears to go beyond the Foreign Office. Kennard’s separate request to the Cabinet Office for information he held on him for the 18 months until March 2021 was rejected because, according to the government, there were too many documents to process.

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for supporting Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said the initial search for data relating to Kennard “returned more than 1,900 hits,” or an average of four mentions per day for the period in question.

The department, which is currently headed by Michael Gove, a close ally of Johnson, explained that the high number was “likely due to monitoring media articles, where several copies of articles you wrote could have been released to Cabinet. Office”.

However, Kennard only wrote 31 stories for Declassified within that 18 month period.

The Cabinet Office took two months longer to respond to the request than its legal obligation, but then claimed that itching through the 1,900 results to “extract” Kennard’s personal data would be “excessive” and denied the request anyway. .

The research, however, found four instances in which Kennard’s requests for information had been referred to the Clearing House of the Cabinet Office, a controversial unit that deals with requests for information for particularly sensitive information. The unit was accused of “blacklisting” journalists.

Gove
Michael Gove, who heads the Cabinet Office, crosses Downing Street on November 10, 2020 in London. The Cabinet Office has internally referenced Matt Kennard of Declassified 1,900 times in 18 months. (Photo: Léon Neal / Getty Images)

A previous data request sent by Kennard, this time to GCHQ, Britain’s largest intelligence agency, showed it had blacklisted him after publishing information about the agency’s controversial school curriculum.

In August 2020, Declassified found out that it had been blacklisted by the Department of Defense press office when our reporter Phil Miller was told by a spokesperson: “We are no longer processing your post.”

After a level two press freedom alert was issued by the Council of Europe, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace rescinded the blacklist and ordered an independent review of the case.

Kennard worked as a reporter for the Financial Time in Washington, DC, New York and London after graduating from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.

He then became director of the Center for Investigative Journalism before co-founding United Kingdom declassified, with Mark Curtis, in 2019. He is the author of two books on US military and economic policy.

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, said Declassified: “This apparently selective application of the Freedom of Information Act does not comply with the letter or the spirit of the law, and is another disturbing example of restrictions imposed on media considered critical. “

She added: “The UK government is obligated to act transparently and must comply with FOIA requests submitted by any journalist, or any member of the public for that matter. Such undue restrictions on freedom of information only serve to tarnish the UK’s press freedom record. DM

Declassified UK is an investigative journalism organization that covers the UK’s role in the world.

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Source: www.dailymaverick.co.za
This notice was published: 2021-06-10 06:25:57

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