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DCLG resorts to identity checks to stall ‘vexatious’ FoI requests

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Government transparency officers dealing with ‘vexatious’ Freedom of Information requests have started requesting proof of identify.

The Department for Communities & Local Government has told two users of the FoI website whatdotheyknow.com that they must prove their identity before their requests will be considered.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has called for an ‘army of armchair auditors’ to monitor public bodies in their use of taxpayers’ money, but his own staff have begun to block the efforts of some foot soldiers.

‘Derek Tickles’, who claims to be a DCLG employee, and ‘Travis Pickles’ have been blacklisted for “vexatious” requests about - among other things - the department’s Barrier Busting website.

The refusal of Mr Tickles’ and Mr Pickles’ requests spurred copycat requests from whatdotheyknow.com users ‘Amy Fisher’ and ‘Mr Jones’, who have been asked for identification.

Mr Jones claimed to live in Azerbaijan. The department told him to take ID to the nearest British Embassy.

While ID is not required to make an FoI, DCLG does not have to answer requests where a pseudonym is suspected and can request proof of identity.

At least two more requests for information have now been made in relation to the Barrier Busting project, including a request to see contract tender documents.

The department’s efforts to block the requests have also resulted in a spate of requests from other users about the number of people blacklisted from making FoI requests and the number of requests refused as vexatious.

Data from the Ministry of Justice for the first three months of 2011 shows DCLG refused nine requests as vexatious - 3% of all its requests and a bigger proportion than any other department.

The nearest by the same measure was the Department of Energy & Climate Change where 0.8% of requests were judged vexatious.

DCLG requests viewed as vexatious rose from four in 2010 to nine in the first quarter of 2011. Recent refusals to Mr Tickles and others have not yet been included in this year’s figures.

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