Information with regard to "Silent Talker"

Vera Wilde made this Freedom of Information request to Manchester Metropolitan University

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Manchester Metropolitan University.

Dear Manchester Metropolitan University,

I would like to receive copies of all documents that allow me to outline the relationship between MMU on the one hand and Silent Talker Ltd., European Dynamics SA and/or the iBorderCtrl consortium on the other. This includes (but is not limited to) emails, meeting minutes, contracts, financial or other arrangements and agreements of any kind.

Specifically, I would like to receive copies of all documents that list (or allow me to compile a list of) all MMU students and staff that work or have worked at or for any of the entities mentioned above, including all details available at MMU of what the work entailed, what the deliverables were and who paid for any work performed.

In addition, I would like to receive a copy of the PhD thesis for Dr. James D. O'Shea (Silent Talker co-founder and senior lecturer CS at MMU) , as well as any meta-data you might have on this thesis (such as when the PhD was granted).

I would be happy to receive documents either in their original digital form or as scanned PDFs.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Vera Wilde

FOI, Manchester Metropolitan University

Thank you for your email.  
The University aims to respond to all Freedom of Information requests
within 20 working days of receipt.  If this is not possible, we will
contact you within 20 working days to explain why and will provide you
with an alternative response date.
Please note that the 20 working day timescale under the Act starts to run
the following working day after the date the request is received.
Regards
[Manchester Metropolitan University request email] 
"Before acting on this email or opening any attachments you should read
the Manchester Metropolitan University email disclaimer available on its
website http://www.mmu.ac.uk/emaildisclaimer "

FOI, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dear Ms Wilde

 

The University has considered your request under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000.  We are unable to supply the information you have
requested because the data is exempt from disclosure, under the following
provisions of the Act:

 

1.              Your request is not valid because it is too broad or
vague.  We would need clarification from you about what you mean by
“documents that allow me to outline the relationship between” the
organisations you have specified, since we are not required to make
assumptions or interpret this ourselves.

 

2.              Provision of all information held by the University in
relation to the organisations you have specified would be likely to exceed
the cost limit for having to comply with a request under s12 of the Act. 
The cost limit for Higher Education Institutions is £450/18 hours and
relates to the time we would have to spend identifying, locating,
extracting and retrieving the information and collating this to provide a
disclosure to you.  In the circumstances we suggest you reconsider and
prioritise the information you consider to be most useful.  Before you
amend and submit a new request, please note the information supplied in
point 3 below.

 

3.              Some of the information you have asked for is publicly
available elsewhere, and therefore exempt from disclosure under s21 of the
Act,  for example:

a.     information about Limited companies is available from the
government website: Companies House

b.     information about each of the organisations and projects you have
referred to is available on the relevant websites, eg:
https://www.iborderctrl.eu/

c.      PhDs are published and available to view in the British Library

 

4.              You are not entitled to receive any personal data relating
to any individual student/employee referred to in your request.  This is
because personal data is protected by data protection legislation (GDPR &
the Data Protection Act 2018).  It is therefore exempt from disclosure
under 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

Regards

 

Michelle Gretton | Information Governance Officer

Legal Services | Manchester Metropolitan University

Email: [Manchester Metropolitan University request email]  

All Saints Building | Oxford Road | Manchester | M15 6BH | United Kingdom
| mmu.ac.uk

 

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your
request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of this decision,
you should write to the Director of Legal Services, All Saints Building,
Manchester, M15 6BH, or at [email address].  If you are not content with
the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information
Commissioner for a decision.  Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision
unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Legal
Department.  The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF.

 

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Vera Wilde left an annotation ()

Before initiating the formal FOIA process, I made an initial phone contact, issued a follow-up email request, and then received an effective denial through the press office. These contacts are reflected in the email correspondence below.

It is **not normal** for universities to respond to degree verification requests by telling you to come to their city and get a public library card to use on weekends and holidays if you want to read a thesis they supported that is already supposed to be available for free online from anywhere in the world. Most press offices actually verify degree information on request—it is part of their job—and having to issue a formal request under FOIA for this sort of information is highly unusual.

***
Begin forwarded message:

From: Jessica Marsh <J.Marsh@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: Degree information verification request
Date: January 15, 2019 at 9:54:38 AM GMT+1
To: Vera Wilde <vera@verawil.de>

Hi Vera,

We are looking into the request and will be back to you as soon as possible.

Best wishes
Jess

From: Vera Wilde [mailto:vera@verawil.de]
Sent: 14 January 2019 21:57
To: Jessica Marsh <J.Marsh@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: Degree information verification request

Hi again Jess,

Any news about details on dr. O’Shea’s Ph.D. (field and specialty, title and date, advisers), and/or obtaining his thesis?

Thanks and best,
Vera

On Jan 12, 2019, at 1:32 AM, Vera Wilde <vera@verawil.de> wrote:

Hi Jess,

Sure, I’m researching the iBorderCtrl project that dr. O’Shea is involved in, both in his capacity as researcher at MMU and on behalf of Silent Talker, a company co-founded by dr. O’Shea. I write directly for a number of blogs (https://iBorderCtrl.no chief among them when it comes to this topic), and am regularly sharing my research with a number of journalists, including freelancers and staff writers for WIRED, FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper) as well as with fellow researchers in a network of digital right activist groups.

Kind Regards,

Vera Wilde

On Jan 12, 2019, at 1:18 AM, Jessica Marsh <J.Marsh@mmu.ac.uk> wrote:

Hi Vera

Would you mind letting me know what you need this information for and what the publication is?

Best wishes
Jess

From: Vera Wilde [mailto:vera@verawil.de]
Sent: 11 January 2019 12:12
To: Jessica Marsh <J.Marsh@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: Degree information verification request

Dear Jessica,

We just spoke on the phone. Per our conversation, I’m sending you an email to ask for your help verifying some degree information about a Manchester Metropolitan University affiliate. There are discrepancies across a few websites.

The person is James D. O’Shea, who’s listed as an MMU Senior Lecturer in Computer Science here:

https://www2.mmu.ac.uk/scmdt/staff/profi...

That staff profile page has him listed as Dr, but doesn’t fill in any information about his degree.

His LinkedIn profile page provides a little more information, but ultimately also isn’t very helpful on this score:

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/james-o-shea-...

That page lists his PhD degree granting institution as MMU, but doesn’t indicate the field or year of the degree.

His Research Gate page again provides a little more information, but isn’t conclusive.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jam...

That page indicates he studied Education at MMU from Sept. 1976 - Sept. 1977, and Artificial Intelligence at MMU from Sept. 2000 - Sept. 2010. But it doesn’t indicate degrees granted.

One might infer from these pages together that O’Shea received a PhD in AI from MMU in 2010. But then this page indicates that his PhD dissertation should be available online:

https://libguides.mmu.ac.uk/c.php?g=2814...

That page says "e-space is an Open Access repository, which aims to capture and preserve the research output of Manchester Metropolitan University and make it freely available over the Web.
It contains theses presented as part of MMU research degrees from 2009.”

But a search of e-space returns no results for a thesis presented as part of an MMU research degree by James D. O’Shea.

Would it be possible for you to please help me verify these credentials? I’d like to know what degrees O’Shea received from MMU, when.

Then as a next step, I need to access his PhD thesis. I don’t know if you can help me with that, or if I need to contact your library for this.

Thanks and best regards,
Vera

"Before acting on this email or opening any attachments you should read the Manchester Metropolitan University email disclaimer available on its website http://www.mmu.ac.uk/emaildisclaimer "
***
From: Chris Morris <C.Morris@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: PhD thesis access
Date: January 21, 2019 at 12:51:02 PM GMT+1
To: "vera@verawil.de" <vera@verawil.de>

Dear Vera,

I understand from my colleague Jessica that you are looking to access a PhD thesis by Dr James O’Shea.

The thesis is available in the University library, All Saints Library, but currently only in print format. These items are held within general store within the library.

Generally, members of the public with a Manchester public library card have reference access to the library at the weekends 11am-5pm during term time, but greater access is available during vacation.

Further detailed information is given on our library visitor guide - https://libguides.mmu.ac.uk/visitors

To access the thesis once in the library, members of the public can speak to library staff who can retrieve the thesis for reference access within the library.

I hope that this is of help.

Best wishes,

Chris Morris | Senior Press Officer | Press Office | External Relations | Manchester Metropolitan University

c.morris@mmu.ac.uk | Phone +44(0)161 247 2184 |

Manchester Metropolitan University | 6 Great Marlborough Street | Manchester, M1 5AL | United Kingdom | mmu.ac.uk

Before acting on this email or opening any attachments you should read the Manchester Metropolitan University’s email disclaimer available on its website at mmu.ac.uk/emaildisclaimer.

To opt out: If you would like to stop receiving emails, press releases or media pitches from
Manchester Metropolitan University press office, please respond with ‘unsubscribe’ to this communication.

Dear Manchester Metropolitan University,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Manchester Metropolitan University's handling of my FOI request "Information with regard to 'Silent Talker.' "

On January 11, I began requesting information that it's my understanding must be disclosed by MMU as a public university by law on request. I started by calling the press office, and then emailing Jessica Marsh ([email address]) at her direction. She passed my request onto Chris Morris ([email address]) in the press office, who I believe initiated an inappropriate denial of my request for information. At this point, I decided to formalize my use of the governing law, the Freedom of Information Act, to continue requesting the information I'm after. I had hoped that a different office would know how to fairly apply and obey the law.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/i... The referenced press office correspondence is appended as an annotation.

As you can see, a blanket denial was issued on February 19 citing four exemptions. I believe that every facet of Information Governance Officer Michelle Gretton's interpretation and subsequent denial of my request was in error.

The purpose of the UK FOI legislation (https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui... ) is to ensure people's "right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to… An applicant (requester) does not need to give you a reason for wanting the information. On the contrary, you must justify refusing them information; you must treat all requests for information equally, except under some circumstances relating to vexatious requests and personal data... The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by whether they are journalists, local residents, public authority employees, or foreign researchers." I hope that you will consider the letter and spirit of the law in responding to my complaint, and reconsidering my request.

Regarding MMU's first stated reason for denying my request, "documents that allow me to outline the relationship between" is indeed clear. MMU is a public entity, and I'm interested in its relationship with the specified other, non-public entities. That is information that MMU is required by law to disclose. It would seem that requiring any further description or clarification of the information sought would actually limit the scope of the requested information. Since I don't know what the relationship is, I have to ask the university to tell me. I can't ask MMU in any greater detail to disclose details about relationships that I don't know. This is circular.

Regarding MMU's second stated reason for denying my request, operating under cost constraints does not give you or any other authority blanket permission to not process a request. If any part of my request is indeed expensive to process, a more appropriate response would have been to inform me of this and try to resolve this in dialogue as opposed to escalation. Please feel free to contact me for dialogue if you have any questions. (Email is the best way to set up a time to reach me by phone or Skype, and my contact information is at the end of this letter.)

Regarding MMU's third stated reason for denying my request, "Some of the information you have asked for is publicly available elsewhere" — I already have the publicly available information referenced in part a (LLC information from the government website) and part b (information from iBorderCtrl.eu). I never asked the university to duplicate this publicly available information, and that misreading of my request cannot be used to bolster an inappropriate blanket denial. Just because I can look things up on the Internet doesn't mean MMU has no obligations under FOIA.

Regarding part c, PhD theses: As I explained to the press office in the appended correspondence, Dr. O'Shea's PhD is not in the online repository where the MMU website states it should be, nor is information about where he completed what degree in what topic under whom already available in a clear and complete context. MMU has now repeatedly failed to simply verify an alumnus's degree information on request. I'd be equally happy with you asking the library to scan the physical thesis copy that they have and put it online where, according to your published policy, it is already supposed to be.

Regarding MMU's fourth stated reason for denying my request, I am not requesting any privileged personal data relating to an individual student/employee. It is almost Orwellian to attempt to use the GDPR to disembowel the FOIA in this way. It surprises me to have to kick a normal degree verification request into a FOIA process — and it surprises me even more to then have even that part of the FOIA request still be denied.

Please review MMU's response to my request.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Vera Wilde

vera at verawil dot de
plus 49 151 5907 5245

FOI, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dear Dr Wilde

Just to confirm that we are continuing to look into your appeal and will provide a further update or final response by 19th June 2019.

Regards

Senior Information Governance Officer
Legal Services | Manchester Metropolitan University
Email: [Manchester Metropolitan University request email]
All Saints Building | Oxford Road | Manchester | M15 6BH | United Kingdom | mmu.ac.uk

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FOI, Manchester Metropolitan University

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Wilde

 

Apologies for the slight delay in responding to your appeal, this is due
to annual leave commitments. 

We have conducted an internal review in respect of your FOI request and
your email dated 21^st April 2019.  Our decision is that the application
of the provisions set out below was correct in the circumstances and the
University’s decision is therefore upheld. 

 

Before we set out the reasons for our decision, we will respond to the
additional complaint you raised in your email dated 21^st April: You
advised that you initially requested information by calling the press
office, who: “initiated an inappropriate denial of my request for
information.”  We can confirm that the Freedom of Information Act 2000
requires that a valid request for information must be made in writing. 
There is no obligation for Universities to disclose any information in
response to verbal requests.

 

We have set out below our reasons for upholding the University’s decision:

 

1.     The cost limit for having to comply with a request under s12 of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 would be exceeded:

The University is not obliged to provide any information, since we have
determined that the cost of identifying, retrieving, assembling and
providing copies of the information will exceed the ‘appropriate limit’,
set by the Freedom of Information & Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and
Fees) Regulations 2004.  The limit is £450, equating to 18 hours of work. 
Under this provision, if the University is unable to locate, retrieve,
extract and provide some or all of the requested information within
£450/18 hours, we are not obliged to retrieve or provide any of the
information you have requested.  There is no obligation for University
staff to “enter into dialogue…by phone or Skype” with you regarding the
cost limit.  However, the information provided below should assist you to
review and refine your request accordingly:

a)     You requested “all documents that allow me to outline the
relationship between MMU … Silent Talker Ltd … European Dynamics SA …
and/or the iBorderCtrl consortium….  This includes (but it is not limited
to) emails, meeting minutes, contracts, financial or other arrangements
and agreements of any kind.”  However, you did not provided any
restrictions or boundaries for the scope of the search for data:

o   The University does not hold a central repository of all such
documentation and correspondence; nor any central list of staff who may
have communicated via email (for example) regarding one or more of these
entities for any reason.  In order to advise and assist you further, we
conducted some preliminary investigations regarding the possible numbers
of emails referring to ‘Silent Talker’ or ‘iBorderCtrl’ or ‘European
Dynamics’ and ascertained that there are many thousands of emails alone;
many of which may not be relevant to the specific information you have
requested.  We would have to retrieve all of them and then review them
manually in order to a) assess whether any of them contain any information
which might allow you “to outline the relationship” between the specified
parties and then b) extract the relevant information (that which
“outline[s] the relationship” between the parties) from the documents.    

o   You have not set any additional criteria or limits for the search for
data, such as date ranges, etc, in order to narrow the scope of the
search. 

o   You appear not to have considered that there may be references to
‘Silent Talker’ ‘iBorderCtrl’ ‘European Dynamics’ etc, held by the
University, which do not relate in any way to the particular
projects/activities/companies or information you are interested in.  We
are unable to make assumptions about what specific information is relevant
on your behalf.

 

b)     You requested a “list … of all MMU students and staff that work or
have worked at or for any of the entities mentioned above, including all
details … of what the work entailed, what the deliverables were and who
paid for any work performed.”  We assume that you are not asking for a
list of all current/former MMU students/staff that have worked for the
University itself, but that you are asking for all current/former MMU
students/staff that have worked for either Silent Talker Ltd, European
Dynamics SA and/or the iBorderCtrl consortium.  If this assumption is not
correct, please let us know.  As advised in a) above, there is no central
repository for this type of information - the University does not
routinely collect/monitor or record detailed information about external
organisations its current or former students may undertake paid employment
with.  Although there may possibly be some relevant information held
within the University, because there is no obvious or central location to
identify this type of information, this particular data would be very
difficult and time consuming to identify.  We would advise you that the
most likely source of data regarding employees of external organisations
would be the employers themselves and not the University.  In any event,
the identification of individuals is prohibited under data protection
legislation, as this is an infringements of the rights and freedoms of
those individuals who would have a legitimate expectation of privacy (see
Point 3 below).

 

c)      You asked for a copy of the PhD thesis for Dr James O’Shea, plus
any metadata (such as when the PhD was granted).  We have determined that
the PhD is publicly available, but that it is only accessible in hard copy
at the University’s library in Manchester.  The current policy regarding
online publication relates to current PhDs and those submitted since
approx. 2014/15, not to all historic PhDs submitted.  Our preliminary
investigations have ascertained that it is likely to take in excess of 1.5
hours in order to retrieve the document and manually scan the pages and
collate and condense these in order to provide an electronic copy.  If you
wish to prioritise this aspect of your request, in order to submit a
request which is likely to be possible within the cost limit, then please
let us know.  However, please note that if you request this information,
we will subsequently need to determine whether this information is subject
to restrictions in terms of copying and dissemination or is exempt from
disclosure for any additional reasons.  Our preliminary investigations
have not identified any additional data relating to the PhD other than the
published information. However, we can confirm the title is: A Framework
for Applying Short Text Semantic Similarity In Goal-Oriented
Conversational Agents.

 

d)     Finally, in respect of the cost limit, please note that the Act
allows us to aggregate requests (even those received over a period of
time), so it is not appropriate for a requester to break a request down
into parts and ask for one item at a time to attempt to circumvent the
cost limit rules.  You will need to determine which information is of
greatest importance to you, reduce your request accordingly, and we can
then assess whether your reduced request is possible within the cost
limit.

 

2.     Some information setting out relationships between the University
and external parties is published and available online:

·       iborderCtrl: The following webpage states that the Manchester
Metropolitan University is a project participant in the iborderCtrl
project: [1]https://www.iborderctrl.eu/#Project-Part...  This webpage
also sets out the sources of funding for this project.

·       Silent Talker: Information regarding Silent Talker (Limited
company 09533454, incorporated in April 2015), is published via the
Companies House website, see: [2]https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/   The
University does not own any shares in this company.

·       European Dynamics: our preliminary searches have not identified
any direct relationship between the University and European Dynamics. 
However, some additional information regarding European Dynamics appears
to be available via the
 [3]https://www.iborderctrl.eu/#Project-Part... webpage and the
European Dynamics webpage: [4]https://www.eurodyn.com/company/who-we-a...

 

3.     Personal data:

It is not clear what you mean by: “I am not requesting any privileged
personal data relating to an individual student/employee”, since the s40
exemption does not relate to or specify only ‘privileged’ personal data. 
However, we have not provided a detailed response on this point, at this
time, since s12 of the Act (the cost limit) is engaged and correctly
applied.

 

Given the above, we suggest that you review and refine your request.   

 

Finally, you expressed concern that you were unable to find “information
about where [Dr O’Shea] completed what degree in what topic” and that the
University has “repeatedly failed to simply verify an alumnus’s degree
information on request.” FOI gives no right of access to such personal
data and there is no right of verification of an academic award for
general public viewing.  The University has provisions in place for
employers and educators to verify awards with the consent of the data
subject; and the University will only release such data when there is an
appropriate lawful basis for such disclosure under data protection
legislation.

 

Please note that if you remain unsatisfied with the outcome of this matter
you have a subsequent right of appeal to the Information Commissioner’s
Office (ICO), see their contact us page at:
[5]https://ico.org.uk/Global/contact-us/ for more information.

 

Regards

 

Senior Information Governance Officer

Legal Services | Manchester Metropolitan University

Email: [6][Manchester Metropolitan University request email]  

All Saints Building | Oxford Road | Manchester | M15 6BH | United Kingdom
| mmu.ac.uk

[7]Manchester Metropolitan University

 

 

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