The Information Tribunal has ruled that Camden Council does not need to reveal the identity of Anti Social Behaviour Order recipients to Guardian journalist David Leigh under the Freedom of Information Act.
David Farrer, deputy chairman of the tribunal, said in the ruling that publishing the identity of ASBO recipients, even when the order was still in effect, could cause ‘unjustified humiliation’and may violate the Data Protection Act.
In his ruling, Farrer said: ‘At first blush, the public forum in which an ASBO is made and the related and expected publicity are powerful arguments against Camden’s refusal to identify individuals who are currently subject to such orders. However, such an instinctive response ignores the safeguards on disclosure imposed by data protection.”
Leigh requested the names and addresses of all Camden ASBO recipients in May 2006 as part of an investigation into the effectiveness of the orders. Camden refused to disclose this information, but was overruled by the Information Commissioner in February 2007.
The tribunal’s decision, which was announced on 19 December, reverses the Information Commissioner’s decision.
Leigh said of the decision: ‘It gives rise to an Orwellian situation where council officials can decide whether to name and shame people or keep their identities secret.’He said the ruling had serious implications and would allow the Home Office to refuse to disclose their national ASBO database.
‘It’s a victory for secret justice. The Government’s controversial ASBO scheme is not open to full scrutiny from journalists.’Leigh said he was not notified of the result of tribunal hearing, which came 20 months after the initial Freedom of Information request was made.
Leigh said that the tribunal had misunderstood the Data Protection Act’s provision that personal data can only be used for the use it was taken, but said he would not be appealing the decision in court: ‘The process takes so long, I’d be dead before I got a ruling.”