Saturday 1 June 2013

The secret's out!

Covert Surveillance of People First Councillor

Like all Carmarthenshire County Counillors I was routinely issued with a council laptop and email address on being elected. The purpose appeared to be so I could use it for communications related my council work. However, it is now clear to me that anything I wrote , received or sent from this account could be and some were, accessed by council officers without informing me or the other recipients whose privacy was deliberately violated.

A couple of weeks ago I was shown a document which Carmarthenshire County Council had released under a document search to someone else. The “Attendence Note Form” showed that the Council's IT security officer, had read and logged my emails in September 2011. The “name of client” was blank.

In many councils the elected members “run the show” and as an opposition councillor, I should , if t this was the case, suspect one of my senior elected colleagues in the ruling group of instructing an officer to snoop on me. However, Carmarthenshire appears to be an officer run council. Senior elected councillors with titles and extra salaries, which in other authorities indicate decision making power, show little sign of actually being in charge.
And what is the email so serious that it has to be monitored by the administration? Some of you will remember that our Chief Executive Officer, Mark James CBE, posted a statement on a blog criticising another blogger's attempts to get our major council meetings filmed. After this he emailed the same statement to all councillors. I replied to him, disagreeing with his statement. Someone in 2011 had to find out who had received copies of my negative reply.

The answer was I copied my reply to Mr James to quite a lot of people, all of my fellow councillors, an assembly member, a local town councillor and the blogger herself. Who was so desperate to know that that they invaded my privacy without giving me notice or reason?

Although I have submitted a Data Protection Act request to find out how often and by whom my council emails are read and monitored by my supposed employees, the Carmarthenshire local government civil servants there is as yet no reply. The report form applied only to one email but I would be surprised if it were the only email monitored and also if I was the only Carmarthenshire councillor snooped on.

There are various reasons why employers can legally read your emails, Why were my theoretical employees reading mine? As a council employee I would be informed if my emails were legally monitored but as their employer they have no right to pry. Also, the privacy of those who contact me and whom I contact is clearly being compromised by my own officers. I've asked our monitoring officer to explain to me how and why this can happen?

Local councillors are the first tier of democracy, elected by the people in the hope they will truly represent the people. People First Councillors accept Bell's Principles and therefore value consultation with constituents as much as is possible and practical and a secure “councillor email account” is required by all councillors. No email is ever completely secure but emails to councillors should surely have some privilege and not be secretly opened and read by the staff?

Our senior local government civil servants in Wales are paid by us to hold positions of trust in our councils. In Carmarthenshire we pay them more than anywhere else in Wales. I expect a very full explanation of what has been going on and why?

Councillor Sian Caiach People First