Supplementary written evidence from the Information Commissioner's Office (PS 133)
I refer to your letter of 20 October 2009. Christopher Graham is out of the office at present and has asked me to respond on his behalf.
You are right that the contents of the invoices and ledgers relating to the Operation Motorman case have been transcribed on to Excel spreadsheets and that it would be possible to make this information available to your Committee in redacted form. I assume that what you are suggesting here is the redaction of personally identifiable information but not redaction of the names of the media organisations that used the services of the private detective concerned.
Even providing information in this form could potentially place us in breach of Section 59 of the Data Protection Act. This makes it a criminal offence for the Commissioner or his staff to disclose any information that has been obtained under the Data Protection Act and relates to an identifiable person or business unless the disclosure is made with lawful authority. Lawful authority is provided where the release of information that identifies an individual or business is necessary in the public interest. We are though conscious that we have already released the names of the media organisations involved. If in the light of this you are able to assure us that the further release of information about the involvement of identifiable media organisations is necessary for your inquiry we will be satisfied that the public interest test has been met.
If we proceed to redaction of personally identifiable information there are two possibilities. First we could simply blank out all personally identifiable information such as names, addresses and telephone numbers. We estimate that this would involve around 15 days of staff time and could be completed in two weeks.
The second possibility would be to replace any blanked out information with a description eg "telephone number", "name". We estimate that this would take roughly twice as long ie 30 days of staff time with completion within four weeks.
We are prepared to proceed with either option but would ask you to bear in mind that both options involve the expenditure of public money on redaction and that, as you will have seen when you visited us, the extent of redaction required is such that the information that remains will reveal very little more than is already known to your Committee. In this connection our previous offer to provide you with redacted samples of the invoices and ledgers rather than the complete set still stands.
If you wish us to proceed with redaction I should be grateful if you could provide us with your assurance, as Chairman, that the redacted information is necessary for your Committee's inquiry together with an indication of which of the above options you have selected. We will then proceed to prepare the redacted information as quickly as we reasonably can.