Copy of the COINS database

Julian Todd made this Freedom of Information request to Her Majesty’s Treasury

The request was successful.

From: Julian Todd

19 February 2010

Dear Her Majesty's Treasury,

Please may I have

* a copy of the Combined Online Information System (COINS) database
in an appropriate electronic format.

* the absolute size of the COINS database were it to be backed up
and released in the form of portable media such as hard disks or
DVDs.

I understand a similar request to mine has been turned down
recently,[1] but I am unclear about what exemptions were applied or
whether any further action has been taken.

[1]
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/opensecrets/2...

Yours faithfully,

Julian Todd

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From: Enquiries, CEU

22 February 2010

Dear Mr Todd,

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request. I write to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do not hesitate to contact us.

Darren Creamer
Correspondence and Enquiry Unit

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From: responses, FOI

22 March 2010


Attachment foi tod.pdf
418K Download View as HTML


Please find attached our interim response to your recent enquiry.

Paul Morran | Information Rights Unit | 2/SW, 1 Horse Guards Road, SW1A
2HQ

[1]www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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From: Julian Todd

22 March 2010

Dear Paul Morgan,

Thank you for your interim response to my request for the COINS
database, where you stated that it occupies a modest 11GB of
storage.

Whilst this database may contain some sensitive data concerning the
formulation or development of government policy, a good deal of the
historical data in the database can be disclosed under section
35(2)(a) owing to the decisions already having been taken on the
basis of this factual statistical information.

Assuming that the COINS database is "statistical data" (and
therefore does not require the reasonable opinion of a qualified
person to make it exempt), your consideration of section 36(2)(c)
could actually weigh in favour of the public interest in disclosure
-- depending on exactly what sort of misinterpretation and
follow-up requests you are anticipating from a disclosure.

In any case, a partial, limited disclosure of the database that
fell clearly outside of section 35(1)(a), and whose measured
proportion resulted in such a low volume of follow-up requests that
it was not disruptive to the Treasury is certainly desirable.

Accordingly, a partial disclosure of at least a million lines from
the database relating to some time interval in the past (large
enough to test the concerns about the potential disruption), would
be more acceptable than a blanket refusal.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Todd

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From: responses, FOI

29 March 2010


Attachment foi tod 2.pdf
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Please find attached our final response to your recent enquiry. You emailed us to ask that we consider releasing sample data; however, I am afraid we do not have any dummy data and any sample of the data would still engage the exemptions at s35(1)(a) and s36(2)(c).

Paul Morran | Information Rights Unit | 2/SW, 1 Horse Guards Road, SW1A 2HQ

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

<<foi-tod(2).pdf>>

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Giovanni Bianco left an annotation ( 7 April 2010)

Quote-marks Much of the treasury's defence seems to rest on the public interest test and misunderstanding.

There have been many ICO decisions that have considered the point of 'misunderstanding or misrepresentation', and also an Information Tribunal the case (Rt Hon Lord Baker of Dorking v ICO and DCLG).

The treasury would still need to evidence the possibility of actual prejudice and not just suggest harm.

Much of this could be mitigated by the treasury providing explanatory notes as appropriate with the release of the information.

Secondly, if certain records were in fact exempt because some exemptions were justified there may be no reason as to why some records could not be redacted and those that were not exempt disclosed.

Consideration for the application of exemptions does not fall within the 'appropriate limit'.

Perhaps the ICO would not adopt such a broad approach to exempting the information if an appeal were made to them.

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From: Julian Todd

11 April 2010

Dear Paul Morran,

Thank you for your letter on 29 March 2010 concerning my request
for the COINS data set. (Ref 10/160)

The particular combination of section 36(2)(c), that public
disclosure of the database would cause significant cost and
difficulty owing to its raw, unvalidated, impenetrable, and not
necessarily accurate state, with section 35(1)(a) (formulation of
government policy) raises many questions of public concern.

How much of government policy is based on analysis derived from
this database? To what extent are the records in this database
unreliable, and is it known and accounted for in the policy-making?
What are the processes for improving the effectiveness of the data,
and why does it not include publication in an on-line framework
where the work of Treasury is improved rather than disrupted by
multiple inquiries about inaccurate contents?

Regarding the main 6 exemptions described in the letter, these can
only prevent disclosure of some of the 23 million records in the
data set.

However, as I am persuaded that Treasury's position is unlikely to
change, I am reserving my right to an internal review. Instead I am
varying my request for information:

Please send me 23 complete records from the COINS database. These
23 records should:

* Be listed with all their eight dimensions

* Not include anything to do with the Security Services, anything
defence related, or related to trading funds or public funded
entities such as the BBC;

* Not include any future year data subject to Government and
Parliamentary revision;

* Be drawn from at least 5 different years;

* Be selected from at least 5 different departments;

* Include at least 5 records each with value below £5,000, and 5
records each with value above £50,000.

If disclosure of the data identifiers or variable names associated
to these records are considered exempt under section 43(1) (trade
secrets) or section 43(3) (commercial confidentiality), please
provide:

* equivalent names and/or descriptors for these fields,

* the length (numbers of characters) of the original redacted
identifiers

* a statement from the commercial supplier of this software
(Descisys) proclaiming that these identifiers actually are
commercially sensitive.

Please contact me if these selection criteria need to be varied
slightly for convenience. I would be surprised if it was difficult
to disclose one millionth of this data set.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Todd

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From: responses, FOI

12 April 2010

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request. I write to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do not hesitate to contact us.

Lisa Adams |Information Rights Unit
HM Treasury, 2SW, 1 Horse Guards Road, SW1A 2HQ

Please consider the environment before printing this email.
www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

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From: responses, FOI

21 April 2010


Attachment foi tod.pdf
662K Download View as HTML


Please find attached our response to your recent enquiry.

Paul Morran | Information Rights Unit | 2/SW, 1 Horse Guards Road, SW1A 2HQ

www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

<<foi-tod.pdf>>

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Lisa Evans left an annotation (21 April 2010)

Quote-marks For a more specific description of a 'record' we have enough background to basically write the sql for them.

For example, you can choose the Programme Object Group (POG) codes you want from:

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/cra_2009...

or here I've just the departments and associated POGS here:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0...

I can get you the associated Programme Objects from the print out I have, or you can have a look at what I've scanned so far:

http://www.archive.org/details/PogAndPo

Then go through the remaining different variables and choose a geographical region using the NUTS regional classification etc.

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Francis Irving left an annotation (11 May 2010)

Quote-marks Julian, can you please ask for an internal review, and/or take this one to the ICO?

Possibly should make a new request clarifying their points 1-5 first... We should know enough to define a "record" now.

They are claiming in point 6 that release of *any* data in COINS, even just one "record", would "prejudice effective conduct of public affairs". It seems unlikely that is the case.

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From: Julian Todd

11 May 2010

Dear Paul Morran,

*Request for internal review of my FOI request for 23 records from
the COINS database*

Thank you for your 21 April 2010 reply to my amended FOI request
for information held in the COINS database.

My original 19 February request was for the complete data set, and
I was informed of its refusal on 29 March owing to "the likelihood
of harm from disclosure arising from misinterpretation of the 23
million lines of raw and unvalidated data and/or a high volume of
follow-up requests and enquiries" -- among other exemptions which
could only apply to certain subsets of the data.

Accordingly, I revised my request for only 23 complete records or
lines of your choice, and this was refused because "it is possible
to define the term 'complete record' in a number of different ways"
-- followed by a repeat of the same 5 exemptions that would not
apply to such a small subset of records if they were fairly
selected for the purpose of disclosure.

The exemptions on a hand-selected set of 23 records (one millionth
of the data set) require no further comment, so I will focus on the
definition of a line or a record. A concept of such must be known
to you, otherwise the number 23 million could not have been
counted.

I understand that each data record has dimensions that can be
opened out onto other data tables into an endlessly recursive
scheme. As with any FOI request, "complete record" is to be
understood as "...so far as it would be reasonable to expect the
authority to do so" (Section 16(1)). It is up to you to interpret
my lack of precision, which is unavoidable owing to the lack of
disclosure of numerous details relating the system in earlier
requests.

For an idea of how to interpret my request for 23 complete records,
I refer to this redacted copy of the COINS training manual:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/28...

Page 33 of this document explains how to load data into COINS,
adding that "The Data file Columns section at the top of the screen
shows the 15 columns expected." The 15 columns are the 12 months of
the year, the organisation, SCOA and Programme Object. Each line in
the upload file probably corresponds to 12 records in the data set.

Page 16 outlines a second way to make changes to the COINS database
through an Adjustment. A record in the data set to an outsider who
does not have technical detailed knowledge of the exact
configuration of the data set probably means a page of that which
is shown in a single view for the purposes of making an Adjustment.
It would be acceptable to disclose copies of 23 of these views. If
they happen to contain data for future years in one of the columns,
then redact them! I am not going to complain if data that strictly
exceeds the quantity of records requested is disclosed, so please
err on the side of generosity.

Thank you for reviewing this FOI request. I am sure that a
satisfactory result could be provided without too much work.

Yours faithfully,
Julian Todd

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From: responses, FOI

13 May 2010

Dear Mr Todd,

Thank you for your email dated 11 May; we are interpreting this request as an internal review.

I write to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that it is receiving attention. If you have any enquiries regarding your request do not hesitate to contact us.

Regards

Lisa Adams |Information Rights Unit
HM Treasury, 2SW, 1 Horse Guards Road, SW1A 2HQ

Please consider the environment before printing this email.
www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

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Giovanni Bianco left an annotation ( 3 June 2010)

Quote-marks Funny how they resist but new initiatives seem to suggest it will be made available online:-

http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/statemen...

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From: responses, FOI

4 June 2010

Dear Julian

You have previously requested information on the Combined Online Information System (COINS) under the Freedom of Information act. As you will be aware the Government has announced its intention to enhance transparency and as a first step the Treasury has released data on the COINS database today. This can be accessed via the following links:

<http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/press_09_1...>

<http://data.gov.uk/dataset/coins>

We hope this will assist with the enquiries that you have made but we were unable to answer previously.

Kind regards

Peter Jennings
Correspondance and Information Rights |
Her Majesty's Treasury |*: 1 Horse Guards Road, 2/SW| LONDON SW1A 2HQ|
*: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

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Giovanni Bianco left an annotation ( 5 June 2010)

Quote-marks Comical!!
At least they cant apply s22 as the regs arent in place.

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From: Julian Todd

5 June 2010

Dear Peter Jennings,

Thank you for your letter of 4 June 2010 reminding me that the
COINS database has been published within days of a new
administration taking power. Clearly the events are related.

My original request on 19 February 2010 for the COINS database was
turned down by virtue of the application of at least 6 different
exemptions. My revised request for a fraction of the database (one
millionth) was also turned down for the same reasons.

It is possible that these exemptions told to me were wholly without
merit.

Can you comment on:

1) whether the exemptions were incorrectly applied to my requests

2) the reasons for this incorrect application of the exemptions to
my requests (eg political interference)

3) if steps have been taken to rectify the situation so that FOI
requests to the Treasury are properly handled in the future.

Many thanks to all the team who have arranged for this public
interest information to be disclosed. I only hope that this change
in culture remains permanent.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Todd

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From: responses, FOI

30 June 2010


Attachment Review 19 2010 COINS records.pdf
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Dear Mr Todd,

Please find enclosed our response to your review request re the release of 23 records from COINS.

Our response also addresses your follow-up email of 5 June.

best wishes,

Kate Jenkins

Kate Jenkins
Head of Information Rights Unit
HM Treasury

<<Review 19 2010 - COINS records.pdf>>

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Julian Todd left an annotation ( 2 July 2010)

Quote-marks The still won't accept that the meaning of "complete record" could be reasonably interpreted -- in spite of the fact that numerous visualization appear to have settled on one.

Sections 35 (Formulation of government policy, etc) and 36 (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) appear to embody the political involvement in the handling of my request -- which explains the sudden change in result.

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From: Julian Todd

2 July 2010

Dear Kate Jenkins,

Thank you for your reply of 30 June 2010 concerning my FOI request.
Reference to Sections 35 and 36 do clarify the extent of the
political involvement in preventing disclosure at the time of my
request.

Your explanation of Section 36(5)(a) indicated that the "qualified
person" has to be a minister.

Can you disclose the name of the minister in question?

Yours sincerely,

Julian Todd

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From: responses, FOI

14 July 2010

Dear Mr Todd,

The references to the application of s36 in my letter of 30 June related to the decision to withhold information in the COINS database whether other specific exemptions were not engaged.

You asked which Minister agreed the exemption at section 36 applied in the case of the COINS data. For a government departments the qualified person is "any minister of the Crown". The Exchequer Secretary, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, took the decision as departmental minister for the Treasury Group.

Kind regards,

Kate Jenkins
Head of Information Rights Unit
HM Treasury

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