Tuesday 18 March 2014

Email snooping and misuse of the press office - sterilised and repackaged

Aside from recent scandals, this council has a proud history of kicking uncomfortable and embarrassing issues into the long grass. Two such issues were the email snooping episode and the misuse of the council press office. Both matters, dating back to 2012, have been sterilised and repackaged in the form of 'policy reviews' and finally appear on the agenda for next Monday's Policy and Resources scrutiny meeting.

You may remember that in June 2013 Cllr Caiach discovered that her email account had been tracked in July 2011 by 'officer unknown' without her knowledge.

This was despite a bar on individual senior officers directly accessing the emails of others 'unless they have been given permission to do so by that person'. The 'tracking' was related to the libel case, and as Cllr Caiach went on to become a witness against the council and its Chief Executive in the case, the question arose whether or not this was actually common practice. 

The Chief Executive, at a meeting of full council stated that this particular 'tracking' incident was all part of the disclosure stage of the case and was 'ordered' by the High Court. It wasn't. The disclosure stage of the case happened in the Autumn of 2012, the 'tracking' was over a year earlier. Another memory lapse from Mr James perhaps.

The press office has much to answer for and has long been seen as the propaganda arm of the unelected senior officials who run the council. The matter came to a head when Kevin Madge, the current political arm of the ruling junta was found, in March last year, to have breached the code of conduct by using a press release to launch a political attack.

The recent scandals have seen the press office throw caution to the wind and repeatedly use the press office, and it's online form, the ironically named 'Newsroom', to defend the illegal payments made to the Chief Executive.

Anyway, like the email snooping, councillors have been patiently waiting for a report 'relating to the process followed and officer involvement in preparing and agreeing the press release'. There are two reports on the agenda for Monday's scrutiny meeting 'Review of Email usage and monitoring policy' and 'Press and Media Protocol' which should give councillors the opportunity to ask some serious questions, given that the monitoring and tracking of emails is up specifically for a closer look.

The current policy states that 'The Council will automatically monitor email including both the text of a message and any attachments. The Council will monitor both incoming and outgoing mail.'. Which is probably standard stuff I suppose. The problem occurs when 'The Council' is in fact an individual, and when that individual is allowed to access emails for improper purposes.

Another issue to consider is the possibility that the privacy of residents was (or is) being violated as they often communicate sensitive and personal information to their elected representatives.

Neither report, of course, actually mentions the two incidents which gave rise to the concerns in the first place.

Also on the agenda is a mention of Car Parking charges. A 7% loss in parking revenue last year, which gave rise to a challenge as to whether or not there would be any benefits to bumping up the charges, has been jiggled around by the council bean counters and turned into a 7.5% increase! Amazing!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SurelyHuman Rights trumps nosy officers? You simply cannot have a blanket policy like that.

However, if uou do, you could, as a councillor, considet yourself de facto to be "the council" and have freecom to see all emails of other councillors and officers .....!