Bees And Government Transparency vs Government Officials And Anonymity

Do civil servants and government officials have the right to anonymity?

I received an email from (we’ll call him Mr X) pointing out that on my page about flawed government studies, I explicitly name the authors of the report. 

Mr X stated that the names are confidential, and should not be disclosed.  He stated he “would therefore ask me, under the Data Protection Act 1998, to remove the names from the webpage”.

The page refers to the UK Bumblebee study that came under serious criticism from independent scientists and also from EFSA, who conducted a very significant review of the study.  I’ll come back to this point later.

My personal view is that civil servants, government officials, should be held to account in the name of trust and public confidence given they are paid from the public purse, civil servants advise government policy, and that reports and studies are performed using the taxpayers’ money.

Below, I outline my response to the request for the removal of names, for the benefit of other readers who may find themselves in similar circumstances when they endeavour to highlight the activities of civil servants to the wider public.

Please note that I have added additional words in [ ] for the benefit of the reader, and for external links, I do not supply live, direct links due to risks of broken links at a later date, so please copy and paste the link into a new window in your browser.


    Dear Mr X

    I write concerning your email to this website on 26th January 2017, in which you requested I remove the names of authors of a FERA
    [government body – Food And Environment Research Agency] report, as disclosed on the page https://www.buzzaboutbees.net/flawed-government-bee-studies.html.

    I write to inform you your request is denied.

    Firstly, Civil Servants do not have automatic right to privacy, especially when a case can be argued for 'Public Interest'.


    The Civil Servants concerned were advising the government, and performed a study using public funds.

    Indeed, reasonable disclosure can be expected.

    I refer you to several documents:
    https://ico.org.uk/media/1187/section_40_requests_for_personal_data_about_employees.pdf

    Pages: 6 and 7; paragraphs 16 to 20.

    Example from a relevant ruling:

    Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform v. Information Commissioner and Friends of the Earth; case EA/2007/0072

           "Tribunal concluded that senior officials, as “spokespersons” of an organization, could have “no expectation of privacy” and therefore could have their names disclosed (para. 101)"

    In respect of this case, a letter from the European Ombudsman was cited, to the effect that "data protection rules are being misinterpreted as implying the existence of a general right to participate anonymously in public activities."

    I am able to make a case to support the reporting of all names included on the page.

    Secondly, it is worth noting that the study was initially published, with all names visible, and the report was fully available for download by the public.  It was only following public criticism that names were removed, but you'll note that embarrassment does not entitle the authors to privacy either.

    Thirdly, the study is cited elsewhere on the internet, with all names disclosed.

    Fourthly, a precedent has already been set.  If you care to look, it is normal practice for civil servants to disclose names on reports, across various departments.  No matter how embarrassing or inconvenient it may be for FERA or their employees, there is no reason why they should be exempt.

    In any case, at an EU level, the author names, and panel names at EFSA are fully disclosed.  Just one example, of which there are many:   https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4578

         "Miguel Angel Miranda, Dominique Bicout, Anette Botner, Andrew Butterworth, Paolo Calistri, Klaus Depner, Sandra Edwards, Bruno Garin-Bastuji, Margaret Good, Christian Gortazar Schmidt, Virginie Michel, Simon More, Søren Saxmose Nielsen, Mohan Raj, Lisa Sihvonen, Hans Spoolder, Jan Arend Stegeman, Hans H. Thulke, Antonio Velarde, Preben Willeberg, Christoph Winckler"

    Finally, at least some of the UK FERA Civil Servants have indeed already had their names mentioned in various publications, in relation to FERA, EFSA, Bees, and neonicotinoids.  They also appear elsewhere on the internet, so they can hardly claim to be 'shy'.  Again, just because they might not like it, doesn't mean the names cannot be published.  Had they produced a quality piece of work with public funds in the first place, perhaps they would have allowed their names to remain on the report.


Further notes:

  • Helen Thompson is involved with the bizarrely- named ICPBR ‘Bee “Protection” Group’, which the last time I looked, involved primarily the employees from the agrochemicals industry and related consultants, and of course,Thompson and Selwyn Jenkins for FERA plus a few others.
  • Helen Thompson went off to work for Syngenta just a few weeks after the Bumblebee “study” was produced. 
    However, prior to that, in January that year, whilst working for the UK tax payer at FERA, she had already produced a 133 page report for Syngenta: "Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bees Report to Syngenta Ltd"  which can be found at : http://fera.co.uk/news/resources/documents/chem-syngentaNeonicotinoidReportJan13.pdf 
    (or use Google or a Freedom of Information Request). Back in 2010, I had predicted she would go off to work for Bayer Crop Science, with whom she has also worked -  so I got it wrong, but not by much. 
  • Indeed, I have previously (some years ago) raised concerns about FERA.

  • EFSA examined the study by Thompson et al, and they state: 

“The conclusions of this scientific statement were reached on the basis of the evaluation of the study report by Thompson et al. (2013),and additional raw data made available by the study authors to EFSA. The study investigated the exposure of bumble bee colonies placed in the vicinity of crops treated with neonicotinoids and its major effects on bumble bee colonies.

The current assessment concluded that, due to the weaknesses of the study design and methodology, the study did not allow to draw any conclusion on the effects of neonicotinoids on exposed bumble bee colonies, and confirmed that the outcome of the conclusions drawn for the three neonicotinoid insecticides remains unchanged. “

https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/3242



  • Further information about this the shenanigans behind the study can be found here: https://www.buglife.org.uk/blog/matt-shardlow-ceo/pesticide-report-was-defras-dodgy-dossier










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