Prison Service (NI) Personnel Drug Testing policy

Max Power made this Freedom of Information request to Northern Ireland Prison Service

This request has been withdrawn by the person who made it. There may be an explanation in the correspondence below.

From: Max Power

Dear Sir or Madam,

Could you please provide me with any documents relating to the Prison Service’s policy on drug testing its employees, and any documents relating to the Prison Service's strategy to reduce the drug use of its employees, and clarify if the Prison Service is working towards eliminating drug use amongst its employees and on what timescale?

Please note that replies which involve attachments in proprietary file formats (such as PDFs, Word Documents and others) are not acceptable. A reply which is not in plain text format will be deemed to be a refusal to answer.

Yours faithfully,

Max Power

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From: NIPSFOI

Dear Mr Power,

FOI Case No: 09:177 - Max Power

Thank you for your request for information which was received today.

Your request is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and, therefore, must be answered within 20 working
days. You can therefore expect a response by 19 June 2009. In your
original request you state that you cannot accept attachments, please can
you contact us in relation to this, or can you provide an address so we
can, if we hold a policy, send you the reply.

Redactions will be made to your papers in line with Section 7 of the Data
Protection Act 1998, in order to protect the identities of third parties.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me on 028
90524344.

When contacting this office in relation to your request, please quote the
case number detailed above.

Yours sincerely

Records & Information Management Team

PRISON SERVICE HEADQUARTERS

DUNDONALD HOUSE, UPPER NEWTOWNARDS ROAD, BELFAST BT4 3SU TELEPHONE (028)
9052 0700

[1][email address]

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From: NIPSFOI

Mr Power,

Please see below. Grateful if you would make contact with this office or
provide an address so we can, if we hold a policy, send you the reply.

Regards,

Records & Information Management Team,
NIPS

P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.

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From: Max Power

Dear NIPSFOI,

Thank you for your response to my request.

I am extremely disappointed that you choose to delay my request by demanding a postal address. I had expected greater openness and accountability from the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Section 8.1b of the Freedom of Information Act asks for an "address for correspondence". The email address I am using is perfectly sufficient for this.

The Ministry of Justice also has guidance on this matter:

"As well as hard copy written correspondence, requests that are transmitted electronically (for example, in emails) are acceptable ... If a request is received by email and no postal address is given, the email address should be treated as the return address."

If this wasn't enough already the Information Commissioner's Office in its "Hints for Practitioners" said:

"Any correspondence could include a request for information. If it is written (this includes e-mail), legible, gives the name of the applicant, an address for reply (which could be electronic), and includes a description of the information required, then it will fall within the scope of the legislation."

If you only have paper copies of the relevant information, perhaps you should consider scanning them in?

I await your reply to explain your course of intended action and timescale for my request.

Yours sincerely,

Max Power

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From: Ireland, Steve

Dear Mr Power

I am somewhat surprised by the tone of your message below. Your original
e-mail stated that you would accept a response in plain text only:

"Please note that replies which involve attachments in proprietary file
formats (such as PDFs, Word Documents and others) are not acceptable. A
reply which is not in plain text format will be deemed to be a refusal to
answer."

We have documents in electronic format which we are only too happy to
disclose - word and .pdf - however you state that you will not accept
these. In the circumstances, it is reasonable on our part to suggest
sending the response by post. I fail to see how printing and then scanning
the documents, which would then become attachments in a "proprietary
format" would fulfil the demands of your request.

We are happy to e-mail the documents to you: we have no wish to know who
you are or where you live. Neither do we have any wish to delay answering
your request. We cannot however convert our current electronic documents
to plain text and so we will either send them by post or by e-mail in
their current format. Either of these methods allow us to fulfil our
obligations in line with section 11(4) of the Act which states that we are
entitled to communicate the information in permanent form "by any means
which are reasonable in the circumstances."

Please let me know how you wish to proceed.

Regards

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From: Max Power

Dear Ireland, Steve,

Thank you for your reply.

However I am revolted by the condescending tone of your reply.

You are quite correct, I requested no proprietary file formats in my first email to you - though open file formats are quite acceptable(such as XHTML, PNG, JPEG, OpenDocument amongst others). If a document is in paper format only, it is quite obviously impossible to deliver it electronically without using OCR software and proof reading the document and correcting any errors, which is of course too cumbersome and inaccurate, as such the request to have it in plain text would clearly not apply in that case.

While scanning in a paper document, you do not have to select the two proprietary formats you quote above (Word Document and PDF), you are quite able to select open formats.

In case this is too difficult for you to appreciate, I'll provide a hint: saving the scanned in documents in PNG or JPEG would be perfectly compliant with my request. So I fail to see how there can be any contradiction between my request and my reply to your delaying tactic.

If you do not comply with my request I will be forced to request an internal review.

Yours sincerely,

Max Power

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From: Ireland, Steve

Dear Mr Power

The software on our computer system is extremely tightly controlled. We do
not have the facility to save scanned documents into any of the formats
you mention. On the other hand, freely available public software allows
anyone with an internet connection to install viewers for both MS Word and
Adobe pdf. I reiterate my previous points: we will provide either in a
format which is compatible with our secure computer system or we can send
it in hard copy. I am trying to be helpful, not condescending, however I
will point out the following:

1. I am under no obligation to respond to a request which is vexatious.
Your use of what appears to me to be a pseudonym could be considered as
potential grounds for refusal under section 14 of the Act. I refer to the
ICO guidance on repeated and vexatious requests which states:

"The Act requires applicants to make requests for information in writing
and to state his or her name and an address for correspondence.
Technically, therefore, a request submitted using a pseudonym is not a
proper request and could be refused on that ground." Please provide proof
of identity.

2. I am under no obligation to respond to any correspondence which I deem
to be either insulting or which I feels undermines the professionalism of
either myself or my staff. I consider your last comments to do both.

Notwithstanding the above, I am still prepared to deal with your FOI
request in accordance with the terms of the Act. I have no wish to
withhold this information, most of which is either already available on
our website or which will be published there in due course. You may wish
to note that I could engage and consider the exemptions at sections 21 and
22 of the Act however I see no benefit either to you or to the Northern
Ireland Prison Service in doing so.

If you wish to seek a formal review, please write to the Internal Review
Panel setting out exactly what your complaint is and it will be considered
in accordance with the legislation. If you wish me to proceed with your
request along the lines stated previously, please let me know by return.

Regards,

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From: Max Power

Dear Ireland, Steve,

In response to your points above

"1. I am under no obligation to respond to a request which is vexatious. Your use of what appears to me to be a pseudonym could be considered as potential grounds for refusal under section 14 of the Act. I refer to the ICO guidance on repeated and vexatious requests which states:

"The Act requires applicants to make requests for information in writing and to state his or her name and an address for correspondence. Technically, therefore, a request submitted using a pseudonym is not a proper request and could be refused on that ground." Please provide proof of identity."

This I find particularly insulting, Power is a surname which has a history that stretches back to at least the 12th Century in Ireland, I'm very proud to have it as my name, and you then choose to imply that it’s fake. It certainly seems to hint at sectarianism as my surname suggests what community background I'm likely to have. I hope this isn't the case.

In any case after looking upon the ICO guidance I found this paragraph rather telling:

"We recognise that it may be difficult for a public authority to be certain that a pseudonym has been used by an applicant. A relatively low-key approach is recommended and public authorities should not seek proof of the applicant’s identity as a matter of course. In accordance with the spirit and purpose of the FOIA, the default position of a public authority should be to accept the name provided by the applicant"

I feel I am under no obligation to provide proof of identity of any kind. Max Power is my real name, and not the issue. The only issue is your handling of this request. I think that if this request had been a much more smoothly conducted affair, as I’m sure we’d both prefer, you would not have claimed my name was a pseudonym.

"2. I am under no obligation to respond to any correspondence which I deem to be either insulting or which I feels undermines the professionalism of either myself or my staff. I consider your last comments to do both."

At no point in my replies have I personally insulted you or your staff. I have expressed my frustration as eloquently as possible under the circumstances and sought to clarify my request as much as necessary for you to be able to process it. I feel as if my patience and good will towards this request is being abused.

With a great deal of regret I would like you to have an internal review conducted concerning the handling of this request.

I would like a full justification and explanation the handling of this request in particular the matters below (but not exclusively those):

Your decision not to make your reply available in an accessible format.

The conduct, attitude and tone of Ireland, Steve in dealing with this request.

The demand for proof of identity, running against ICO guidance.

Yours &c

Max Power

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From: Ireland, Steve

Dear Mr Power

I have nothing further to say on the matter. I have offered a number of
ways to make the information available. My reference to the use of a
pseudonym is not sectarian: I refer to a popular motoring magazine,
coupled with an email address which is designed for anonymity. I have
offered to post the documents: a PO Box would be perfectly acceptable; I
have offered to provide it in electronic format, in a manner which is
compatible with the NIPS computer system and for which software is
available free to the public form any internet connection. I fail to see
how I have been obstructive.

I will pass the request to our Internal Review Panel who will assess the
conduct of the case. They will contact you in due course. You may also
complain direct to the Information Commissioner if you wish. Full contact
details, if required, will be provided with their decision.

I am copying this e-mail, together with all previous correspondence, to my
Line Manager for information.

Regards

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From: Max Power

Dear Ireland, Steve,

Thank you for your response. I had hoped you would have simply acknowledged my request for an internal review and left it at that after your previous conduct.

Max, or Maxine isn't an uncommon name. Neither is Power. Unfortunately small minded individuals sometimes choose to make insults about it. Sadly you seem to have gone down that path by comparing me to a magazine. It seems more like a schoolyard jibe than the behaviour I’d expect from a public servant.

In addition the software you mention is not free or available for all operating systems, or suitable for all users.

My email address is in the format you describe because I'm using the service of the mysociety.org WhatDoTheyKnow.com wesbite. I have nothing to hide whatsoever, and am happy to let anyone know my email address, which is [email address], though I believe WhatDoTheyKnow filters email addresses out, and you may not receive it at your end, just as I haven’t received your personal email address (I would have to send it directly to your organization's FOI email address, rather than through this website though I doubt at this point you are even remotely interested to have it, if you were ever interested at all).

In addition all of your comments have been made available publicly at

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

So anyone who wishes to do so will be able to see how you have dealt with this request. Hopefully your line manager will take a balanced approach in analysing how you have conducted yourself in your replies and improve your procedures so no one else in the future need be confronted with the behaviour that you've shown.

Thank you for forwarding my request onto the Internal Review Panel, I hope it will not come to contacting the Information Commissioner's Office, though I am fully prepared to do so if necessary.

I expect to receive no further communication from you on this matter. I await the reply from the Internal Review Panel.

Yours &c

Max Power

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From: McCleary, Anne

Dear Mr Power,

Your request was heard at an Internal Review today. The panel concluded
that reasonable efforts had been made to provide you with the information
which you sought, including offers to send you hard copies of the
documents, as you made it clear that for an unspecified reason, you were
unable to accept copies in the only electronic format available.
Unfortunately it is simply not possible for us to send you electronic
copies in the format which you request, and therefore the only way to
provide you with the information is by way of hard copy .The panel
concluded that further options should be considered and offered to you:

hard copies could be delivered to a third party nominated by you;
hard copies could be left at a pre-agreed location for collection by
you, or someone on your behalf; or
a hard copy could be hand-delivered to you at a pre-agreed location.

Naturally, if you have any other sugestions as to how we could arrange for
you to receive hard copies of the documents, we would be happy to consider
them.

The panel further noted that references to either pseudonyms or
sectarianism are unhelpful as the issue is really about how NIPS can best
deliver the information requested to you.

I trust that one of the options proposed will be acceptable.

yours sincerely,

Anne McCleary
Deputy Director , Head of Services

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