Re: Secret searching of Councillors phone records.
I feel I have no other option but to write to every Councillor of the City and set out what I consider to be a grave breach of the Council’s policy and procedures and probably actions which have broken the law. I believe this is an issue that affects us all and I am asking for your support.
Some weeks ago I, along with others, was asked to co-operate with an inquiry being run by the Council and I was also asked that, if required, would I agree to my Council e-mail traffic being looked at. Like all Councillors, my email traffic contains information and correspondence of a highly confidential nature, particurlarly involving casework issues and politically sensitive material. However after some consideration I agreed to this and was interviewed by Internal Audit.
I asked for a copy of the findings of the investigation and received a copy of the report in June. I was totally shocked and disgusted to see the Council had not only inspected my Council email facilities, but had also monitored my telephone calls (which included both Council and private) and reported on them within the report itself . The details included who I had phoned and how many times, the information also included the telephone numbers of who I had phoned. The Council commented on the number of times I had called a particular member of the press. I have of course demanded to know who gave the permission for this to take place and I have also demanded to know who else has had there phone records checked in the past.
Whoever gave the instruction for my private telephone records to be checked has, at least:
I. Exceeded the powers of their office
II. Acted outside of the Council’s own policy and procedures
III. Invaded my privacy as Leader of the main opposition (possibly others)
IV. Probably broken the Data Protection Act
V. Almost certainly breached the Officer/Member protocol
VI. In all probability infringed my civil liberties (and possibly others)
VII. Clearly abused their power as an Officer of the Council
I have sent as a number of FOI questions about whether others have in the past had there e-mails or phones secretly monitored. I have also sent of a complaint to the Information Commissioner and asked whether the law has been broken. The City Solicitor has also referred the Council to the Commissioner and apologised (some comfort to me and you).
There has been much public concern about Council's apparently misusing surveillance powers which do exist against members of the public. In this instance it seems that a Councillor has been targeted for an inproper intrusion into private records, by the Council. If the Council behaves like this against the Leader of the Opposition, goodness only knows how it would behave in relation to a backbench Councillor or a member of the public. We as Councillors rely upon our Officers to behave in a proper manner. If they do not, the bond of trust is destroyed and elected members are unable to carry out their duties properly - the end result is that the public are not well served.
I hope you will agree with me that firm action needs to be taken. To this end, I am going to move an amendment to the Motion before Council on the 9th that demands a full and independent investigation into this matter the investigation should look at the following:
Ø What other members have had their records checked?
Ø What Policy has been used to undertake these outrageous secret searches?
Ø What other occasions have e-mail, telephone records been checked since 2005?
Ø What reports have Councillors seen on secret searches?
Ø Who authorised the search of my phone calls?
I believe this is as serious incident as I have ever witnessed in public life. Democracy is precious to all of us and we must defend our rights as elected Councillors including our civil liberties, right to privacy and respect. We can not accept any Officer viewing themselves as above the law and acting in such an unacceptable manner.
This is not a political issue. I am calling on Councillors from each Party to support my actions and demand an independent inquiry as only this can restore trust. We must then take decisive action against those who have behaved in such a way.
Councillor Joe Anderson