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Behind The Wire

Twitter Tackles Open Government

In a stinging opinion piece yesterday on The Global Mail, Open Australia founders Matthew Landauer and Katherine Szuminska argued that the Department of Immigration was “unlawfully obstructing over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the general public in an attempt to maintain secrecy”.

They were referring to the department’s plans to refuse "100 valid requests" for detailed reports attached to some of the brief incident summaries featured on TGM’s latest data project, Behind The Wire, a visualisation of more than 7,600 incidents filed by staff at Australia’s network of privately run immigration detention centres.

Unsurprisingly the piece sparked a fierce debate on Twitter, into which weighed the Department of Immigration’s national communications manager and avid tweeter, Sandi Logan.

Logan objected to the idea that the department was acting unlawfully by not processing the FOIs, and reiterated the grounds for their refusal:

His flurry of tweets, and particularly the suggestion that all the incidents featured on Behind The Wire are “substantially the same” in their subject matter, prompted a spirited discussion between Logan, Detention Logs’ Paul Farrell, TGM Editor Lauren Martin, and the Guardian Australia’s Oliver Laughland:

Lawrence Bull, one of the Detention Logs reporters who sourced the detention incident data behind the FOI campaign, gave examples of two incidents that appear to be vastly different, but have been lumped together by DIAC as “substantially the same”:

Crikey journalist and former public servant Bernard Keane queried the claim that the Department of Immigration is acting unlawfully. Delay and obfuscation within the boundaries of the FOI act is “perfectly lawful”, he said. Former secretary of the Department of Defence Paul Barratt suggested the more accurate claim was that the department was acting unethically, against its code of conduct:

A more transparent approach was suggested by tweeter FOI Central, who cited the example of the Department of Defence’s Hot Issues Briefs page, where initial incident reports and advice to the Defence Minister are regularly published with personal details redacted:

Logan is yet to reply.

Behind the Wire emerged from a collaboration with RightToKnow.org.au, Detention Logs, New Matilda and Guardian Australia. The data is open to anyone. Explore it here.

3 comments on this story
by Marilyn

In September 2004 I lodged a request for documents on behalf of Roqia Bahktiyari with evidence t support their claim that she was married to someone called Asghar Ali born in Quetta in 1971 and not Ali Bakhtiyari born in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan in 1961. hey sent more copies of documents for some other people born in 1957 and 1959. Ali''s deportation document said 1957, the Pakistan ID said 1971 and the letter from DIAC rightly said 1961 and no-one could be bothered to report this.

I got 3.5 reams of blank paper interspersed with a few dozen papers that were of use to me.

Like the fact that not one person ever said Roqia was from Pakistan, that they used the baby's Adelaide birth certificate to claim he was from Pakistan (the High Court stated the whole family were probably from Afghanistan) and I got the documents three weeks after they were knowingly illegally deported without papers to Pakistan and dumped in the snow in Rawalipindi after 4 days in airport lounges waiting for bribes to be paid.

DIAC had no honour or care then, they have none now.

July 5, 2013 @ 6:05pm
by Mark

Bernard Keane makes an interesting point that DIAC are acting unethically rather than unlawfully. That is worth exploring. While Logan may, on the face of it, be doing no more than interpreting the legislation too strictly, there is an alternative view. The FOI Act sets out a range of objectives. This includes for example to create a right of access to information held by government, increase scrutiny of government activities, and increasing public participation in decision making.

So whether Logan's strict interpretation of the "voluminous request" provisions is strictly correct or not, it seems clear (to me at least) that she is failing to give effect to the legislation.

So both unethical and unlawful I'd say.

July 7, 2013 @ 11:34am
by udi

From another article in this series:

" In August 2012, an independent review of the Department of Immigration’s FOI procedures, conducted by former Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Robert Cornall AO, concluded:
The Department’s current level of performance in regard to freedom of information is unacceptable. DIAC is not complying with its legal obligations. It is in bad standing with the FOI regulator..."

I think that this should be enough evidence to prove the claim that DIAC is acting illegally.

July 8, 2013 @ 11:23am
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