Fury at Barnet Council’s bid to gag super-blogger

Furious bloggers have slammed Barnet Council’s attempts to criminalise the investigations of its most prolific citizen journalist.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) quashed the council’s bid to render blogger Derek Dishman’s “quasi-journalistic” postings a criminal activity under the Data Protection Act (DPA), which carries a fine of up to �5,000.

A council source said action was taken following concerns that council staff had been singled out for “cyber bullying”.

Finance boss Cllr Dan Thomas had previously complained that Mr Dishman cost the council �40,000 answering almost 200 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, an ICO official dismissed the council’s request saying it would have a “hugely disproportionate impact on freedom of expression”.

The council had sought advice from the ICO over whether Mr Dishman should be forced to register as a “data controller”, after postings which criticised “non-jobs” on his blog Mr Mustard.

Mr Dishman, a debt collector, told the Ham&High: “How many bloggers are there in the world and how many are registered as data collectors? Why has Barnet got such a strong blogging community? Because the council is so appalling.

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“They talk about being open and transparent, but they’re not, and even less so by trying to pressure me which has not worked.”

Fellow blogger Theresa Musgrove, who runs the Broken Barnet blog, said: “This was nothing less than a desperately ill-judged attempt to curb the right to freedom of expression amongst the Barnet blogosphere, and avoid scrutiny over the very shady dealings in the One Barnet massive outsourcing agenda being pushed by the senior management team.”

A council spokesman said it had approached the ICO and had been advised to lodge the request.

He said: “The council was concerned that an individual had used information gathered by the FOI process and linked this with other information to ridicule and abuse individual members of staff.

“The council consulted with the ICO as to whether this constituted a possible breach of the Data Protection Act.

“The ICO asked the council to make a formal submission, stating this was currently a grey area.

“It should be stressed that the individuals about which the council were concerned were not part of the council’s senior management team. The council does not tolerate the abuse or bullying of any of its staff.”