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« BBC FOIs Met | Main | Climate skeptic shop »

Acton and UEA in the pillory

The Information Commissioner has required the University of East Anglia to sign a written undertaking to obey the Freedom of Information laws in future.

The University shall, as from the date of this Undertaking and for so long as similar standards are required by the Act, the Regulations or other successor legislation, ensure that requests for information are handled in accordance with Section 1 of the Act and regulations 5 and 11 of the Regulations. Internal reviews are to be handled in accordance with part VI of the section 45 Code of Practice, or regulation 11 of the Regulations as appropriate.

They go on to state that proper training and IT procedures must be put in place.

Because FoI laws don't allow in practice for the punishment of civil servants who flout them, this kind of public humiliation is the only option available to the Commissioner. But at the end of the day, civil servants are not held responsible for their misdeeds.


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    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - Acton and UEA in the pillory[...]

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Stolen EUAs spread chill through carbon market - Carbon Finance
22 December, 2010

The continuing circulation of some 1 million stolen EU allowances (EUAs) is leading some traders to pull back from the market for fearing of unwittingly receiving them – and is prompting calls for intervention to clarify the legal standing of the allowances.

Brokers and traders were reluctant to discuss the issue, but one leading market participant told Carbon Finance that his institution had stopped buying EUAs in the spot market and was reining in forward trading, for fear of being left holding the stolen EUAs. Under UK law, the holder is required to return the allowances to the lawful owner, even if it has bought them innocently.

The issue has been brought into focus by the expiry on 20 December of the European Climate Exchange’s (ECX’s) benchmark EUA futures contract, which can be settled by physical delivery.

“I’m potentially putting my position 100% at risk, in exchange for a few cents of return,” the trader said. “It’s not worth it.”

“It’s like juggling hot potatoes,” said Peter Zaman, a London-based partner at law firm Clifford Chance. “No one wants to be left holding the allowances.”

On 16 November, cement company Holcim announced that 1.6 million EUAs had been stolen from its Romanian registry; 600,000 were subsequently recovered, but the other 1 million remain unaccounted for.

Although the serial numbers are known, they cannot easily be intercepted and recovered. On 3 December, Jos Delbeke, director-general for Climate Action at the European Commission, said the recovery of any stolen allowances “is a matter for national law and national law enforcement authorities”, adding that the Commission has “no powers to block any such allowances in a registry account”.

It is unclear how serious an effect the stolen EUAs are having on the market. Some lawyers say that over-the-counter trading (OTC) is being hit, while others suggest that exchange-trading is more of a risk, because the leading futures exchange is allowing EUAs to be delivered against its futures contract.

In a 6 December circular, ICE Futures Europe, which hosts the ECX, stated that the “affected EUAs” must be accepted for delivery by buyers, although the exchange will “monitor all proposed and actual deliveries”, and states that members who “do not have good title to EUAs will be liable to the Clearing House and Exchange for their losses”.

Other exchanges, including LCH Clearnet and GreenExchange, have stated that the EUAs in question cannot be used for delivery.

“The liquidity of the exchange means that settling trades using affected EUAs can spread them throughout the market,” Zaman said. “It’s all very well everyone saying I don’t want to be left holding the EUAs, but if everyone takes that attitude, and pushes affected credits on to the exchanges, they are likely to be receiving tainted ones as well.”

The issue is complicated because under the law in some countries, if the EUAs are bought in good faith, the buyer is deemed to have “good title” – ie, the allowances cannot be claimed by their lawful owner. However, if they were to be found in a UK registry, the holder would be required to return them.

This means that some lawyers are advising traders to favour the German or Dutch registries for trading: “Immediate mitigation strategies put in place by traders include trading through the German or Dutch registries,” says Andrew Hedges, a partner at Norton Rose in London. “This is because the legal regime relating to both give more confidence to unwitting buyers of stolen EUAs that they have good title.”

But underlying the problem, say experts, is that the legal nature of EUAs has never been defined. If, as some traders advocate, they were treated in the same way as cash, then the bearer would have title over them, and the responsibility for security would lie with the holder. A single definition would avoid the problem of their different treatment among the 27 members of the EU.

“The longer-term answer is that the European Commission needs to pursue some sort of legislative measure that resolves the legal nature of EUAs,” said Zaman. However, while potentially a technical move, it will involve member states’ surrendering national authority over the issue, meaning that the Commission would have an uphill fight on its hands.

However, others argue that the answer is technical, and that traders risk overreacting to an issue that is faced in every commodity market. “There are far bigger risks faced by trading desks,” said Graham Stuart, a partner at Baker & McKenzie in London.

“The fix isn’t legal, it’s security, technical in nature, and ensuring you’ve proper security and the right system of checks in place. These are processes that can be activated quite quickly,” he said.

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Also O/T
“NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century. For all their talk about warming, for all their rushed invention of the “Eleven-Station Series” to prove warming, this new series shows that no warming has occurred here since about 1960. Almost all the warming took place from 1940-60, when the IPCC says that the effect of CO2 concentrations was trivial. Indeed, global temperatures were falling during that period.

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

Regarding the emails

purported to have originated from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU)
Not hacked, not stolen, not leaked.

The tone and content of a number of the emails could be interpreted as demonstrating a reluctance to respond to requests for information in an open and transparent way.

I guess that is putting it politely, in a Sir Humphrey sort of way.

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

to misquote Richard Nixon

**Expletive deleted** fantastic.

Peter Walsh

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRETEPHSLAW

So they have to sign a contract not to break the law. How ridiculous.

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

But but but the 3 inquiries cleared them of any wrong doing !!!!!!!!

Ha Ha Ha

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

PB: I too noted the opening background paragraph.

"In November 2009 data, 'purported to have originated' from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU), was placed in the public domain."

Is this an expression of doubt of what or who was the source of this information?

"The data consisted of hundreds of emails, "some of which" discussed technical and routine aspects of climate research. "

Crucially, as became immediately apparent, there were other aspects of the emails that highlighted highly suspect behaviour of the climate researchers at CRU.

"The "tone and content" of a number of the emails "could be interpreted" as demonstrating a reluctance to respond to requests for information in an open and transparent way."

That is official speak for being caught red-handed in breaking the law.

It is damning that UEA are being publicly forced to sign such a document. This is the scientific equivalent of an ASBO.

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I would amazed if FOI training was not already in place it has been legal requirement for years. And we know that years ago Jones was aware of the FOI as he sort to avoid it and that CRU had an FOI office. So this really a shot across the bows of CRU to warn about future behaviour, sadly I see no sign of them actual changing the way they ‘work’ the poor reviews sent the message carry-on as before and that seems to be what is happing.

It’s going to take external checking to make sure Jones and Co are not seeking ways around the FOI.

Dec 23, 2010 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I suspect there are quite a lot of Google mail accounts at UEA and NASA now.

Dec 23, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

This is heartening news. What it tells us is that the ICO didn't simply stop thinking about the UEA and its behaviour after the Parliamentary Enquiry. It also tells us that the ICO was not beaten into submission by Acton's complaint about its assertive statements regarding prima facie evidence of illegal behaviour.

And, not least, it tells us that the ICO takes its role seriously; that it's committed to the cause, and that the truth will "out". I feel that this ICO-required, Acton-signed undertaking constitutes an open and transparent trap, into which Acton is free to step, at his own peril.

Dec 23, 2010 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

But what if they break the agreement to abide by the law?

Dec 23, 2010 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

If they break the agreement and it is only discovered after 6 months (ie they cant be prosecuted under FOI) then they can be taken to a civil court for breaking the agreement.

Dec 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Please, please, please can somebody put a video on here of the moment when Acton was forced to publicly sign this???

And even better if he was accompanied by the impossibly oleaginous Trevor Davies and Phil the Weak and Easily Led???

I need a good laugh over Christmas and watching these three arrogant smug b...s squirm would be a good start.

Dec 23, 2010 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

They have to sign an agreement not to break the law again?

And Jones still gets to keep his new position Director of Research?


Dec 23, 2010 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

It is known as ABC's (Acceptable Behaviour Contracts) if breeched the next step is the ASBO

Dec 23, 2010 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

I suspect that this public slap down will make Acton livid and Jones et al will no longer be flavour of the month. But it will also serve as a shot across the bows for others who I suspect will start to rapidly engage in spring cleaning. Don't be surprised if some institutions publicly declare problems resulting in internal investigations. It would not surprise me if the CRU are hung out to dry in the next twelve months.

Dec 23, 2010 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I've asked before, but I tend to get on the arse end of most of these threads, being in the Antipodes. So, does anyone have an email contact for the gendarmerie in Norfolk who presumably are are still beavering away on the emails leaked, hacked, purported to have originated from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

I requested climate data confidentiality agreements from CRU for four countries as I believe some other readers here did. Subsequently the police sent me a request for info but unfortunately I have misplaced it. I have a response written but no POC to send it to. My response includes full details of a complete misunderstanding on the part of the Northern Territory police which saw me locked up overnight in 1973 after an unfortunate incident in a Darwin drinking establishment. I believe this is called previous "form" by your constabulary and is something they are generally interested in. Sadly I can't help them with their enquiries regarding the emails but I suggested that if they are scratching for something to do they might find the time to read them. All of them. And then to read all but the last chapter of THSI and note any correlations and areas of agreement.

So folks, does anyone have a contact for the Norfolk police investigation team? Thanks in anticipation. My response might well be the one that solves the case

Dec 23, 2010 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrantB

A small dish of public crow is the very least that that irritating pixie Edward Acton deserves; his arrogant and dismissive attitude towards suggestions that UEA might have erred in any way has been one of the most grating elements of the whole Climategate affair.

Dec 23, 2010 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

The big difference between the UK and the US is that in the US an issue like this winds up in the hands of a judge who, since the judiciary is an independent branch of government, could wreak havoc on the university, including if necessary supervising its activities for years.

In the UK the 'Information Commissioner' is just another civil servant (employee of the central government), so 'action' when a government-funded agency is at fault amounts to nothing more than bureaucratic memos like this one. Since there are no sanctions the staff at the UEA, particularly those close to retirement, can nod as if they agree and then behave exactly as they have up to now. Welcome to 'reform of government' as practiced in the UK.

It's touching to see people get enthusiastic about an 'action' like this, which is all show and no teeth, but the only thing that ends up on display is naivete about how government works (see the many episodes of 'Yes, Minister' for further details).

Dec 23, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeville

There is certainly a risk that the UEA members circumvent FOI requests by communicating via google mail and other external file systems. This should be banned. When I worked in finance I was not allowed to logon to my yahoo or google mail accounts from within work as the sites were blocked. This approach should also apply to the UEA. There should be an undertaking by the UEA to enforce that all IPCC-related emails are routed via their servers and the use of non-UEA accounts for work-based communications should be prohibited. I recall that Doug Keenan raised this issue at the Guardian debate.

Dec 23, 2010 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDominic

Re Latimer Alder

Please, please, please can somebody put a video on here of the moment when Acton was forced to publicly sign this???

Would need a suitable location. Perhaps a snow covered table in the middle of a university quadrangle? Both sides approach slowly from opposite corners. Through a window, one can make out the shapes of people desperately shovelling paper into the shredders before the document is signed. Perhaps not as an imposing set as the Missouri, but a start.

Dec 23, 2010 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Re Justice4Rinka

In a 6 December circular, ICE Futures Europe, which hosts the ECX, stated that the “affected EUAs” must be accepted for delivery by buyers, although the exchange will “monitor all proposed and actual deliveries”, and states that members who “do not have good title to EUAs will be liable to the Clearing House and Exchange for their losses”.

No wonder there's so much fraud in carbon trading. Surely if the serials for the stolen indulgences are known, they can simply be cancelled and not traded. But then the exchanges wouldn't profit from the crime. Seems strange the exchange can attempt to force liability onto traders and exclude their own. Phone companies and video game companies manage this better for phone scratch cards and game time or cash cards.

Dec 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Re Dominic

There is certainly a risk that the UEA members circumvent FOI requests by communicating via google mail and other external file systems.

Better would be the ICO here and also it's US equivalent to investigate if this is actually happening. Gavin Schmidt already admitted doing it and it would seem to be a clear attempt to ignore FOI or EIA rules, which could be broadened to conspiracy and if it's ongoing, would not be statute barred.

Dec 23, 2010 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer



But does UEA have quadrangles? I thought it was all 1960s brutalism and creative writing.

We could have Davies tugging his forelock and sweeping the snow and other crap away to smooth the way for Grandmaster Acton. While Phil Jones scurries away into the outer darkness beyond the walls...a forlorn and shabby figure, never to come once more to his erstwhile kingdom.

Once the deed of signature is done (with suitably doom-laden music - Mahler on a bad day??), cut to a happier scene. The arrrival of Santa Claus on his sleigh. The gloom lifts, the mood lightens. Jingle Bells is played. A hint of a smile plays on Acton's face. Davies permits himself a smirk. The worst is over!

Santa pulls to a halt. A large white bearded figure alights and sits at the table . 'Ho Ho Ho' he says in a broad Canadian accent. 'Me, Mr Mosher, Professor McKitrick and Mr Holland have come to wish you all a very merry Christmas! And Douglas J Keenan will be along in just a minute too. Happy Holidays!

Close up of Acton having apoplexy, Davies fainting dead away. Then fade to blue.......

Where's Josh when you really need him?

Dec 23, 2010 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

"FoI laws don't allow in practice for the punishment of civil servants who flout them"

In the UK, unlike Germany, university employees are not civil servants. UK universities are charities, notionally independent of government. But the piper calls the tune. And in this instance the piper, in the shape of the Information Commissioner, is insisting on a very particular tune. He wouldn't need to do this with a branch of the civil service (in that case, the tune comes with the job).

Dec 23, 2010 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

But at the end of the day, civil servants are not held responsible for their misdeeds.

The real issue.

Dec 23, 2010 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

The signing

Dec 23, 2010 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos


There is certainly a risk that the UEA members circumvent FOI requests by communicating via google mail and other external file systems.

While I can not speak for UK law, in the US there is no real protection for information on third party storage such as this. It is not protected by US Constitution Bill of Rights First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment. While there are protections for emails that are in transit, they are not protected if stored on a third party system. Thus the government can read whatever they want whenever they want, for whatever reason they want if you leave it hanging about on the 'cloud'.

This is a world wide issue because you may have heard that India, Saudi Arabia and several other countries threatened Blackberry unless they open their servers to "inspection". That already happens in the US under the Patriot Act and via Echelon.

As for hackers, they have a totally effortless time of getting as Sarah Palin learned a couple years ago.

Best to speak softly in dark corners and then shoot the other party if you want privacy.

Dec 23, 2010 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Is there some chance that Acton may not be particularly thoughtful? The worst thing you can do with an outbreak of lawlessness in an organization is to point to a a few paragraphs in the pertinent statute and admonish staff to observe them.

What, then, about all the others not mentioned but which remain applicable and in effect?

Dec 23, 2010 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

Is anyone aware of the status of the CRU backup server with regard to FOI enquiries as and when it gets returned to UEA/CRU? Does a semi official backup of emails for 3 researchers fall within the remit of FOI?

Dec 23, 2010 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterclivere

Did they get the Humble Pie from Burnham Market? It's not far from Norwich.

Dec 23, 2010 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Re Latimer

But does UEA have quadrangles? I thought it was all 1960s brutalism and creative writing.

Hmm, good point tis the time of year to be thinking about Climategate the musical, or panto though. Too much brutalism and may lose the PG-13 rating, no matter how tempting that may be. Main problem though is thinking about panto made me think of the ghosts of climate past, which made me think of Mann in a mankini, which now means I'm in urgent need of brain flossing.

Dec 23, 2010 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

@ Atomic Hairdryer

Surely if the serials for the stolen indulgences are known, they can simply be cancelled and not traded.

LOL @ indulgences (exactly what they are!) But no. Cancelling them would then mean that whoever is holding them now loses out, even if they were bought in good faith. The law across most of Europe (UK excluded) is that if you pay fair value in good faith, then the item is yours. EU law also provides that, if good title to stolen goods is re-established in this way, it isn't undone if the item then transits through a country in which the law would have been different.

The upshot of all this is that thieves can phish these things, transfer them into their own accounts, sell them on, and the new owner gets to keep them unless they were obviously stolen (eg because they were acquired ridiculously cheaply, for example).

So nobody has any right to refuse to accept them on the grounds that they were stolen once. They would have to prove that the current owner did not lawfully own them now - very hard to establish, especially given that they were in circulation and being traded before they had been reported stolen.

Any loss accrues to whoever lost them in the first place. This precludes issuing new ones, because the point is that there is supposed to be a fixed supply of permissions to emit plant food. If you cancelled them, you'd have to give both the original and current owner a new set. If you gave only the current owner a new set, the original owner is still out of pocket, and you achieve nothing.

Essentially emissions permits are exactly like cash. If someone used a £10 note to buy drugs, the drug dealer spends the £10 on a taxi, you get into that taxi and the taxi driver gives you the £10 as change, is the £10 in your pocket now invalid because it was once used to commit a crime? Nope. At what stage should the Bank of England step in and insist that the note be taken out of circulation? Nobody can say.

And it's the same thing here.

It is always worth remembering, when warmists seek to argue from authority that lots of scientists think CO2 reduction is a good thing, that thousands of organised criminals agree with them. Felons are part of the consensus too.

Dec 23, 2010 at 5:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

J4R - "Felons are part of the consensus too."!! I wonder what would be a reasonable % share on that??! :-)

Re: the ICO - my respect for them has gone up a notch. I hope that they are equally successful in cornering our politicians into proper legislative support for prosecuting FOI/EIR breaches.

Dec 23, 2010 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Edward Acton was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia with effect from 1 September 2009. As a 'new broom' he had his chance to influence the future of the UEA and chose to defend the past. As something of an expert on the Russian Revolution, one may have thought that he understood the potential destructive threat of a charlatan on the status quo. Will history reveal a Rasputin to Acton's Tsaring role or show him to have been his own man?

Dec 23, 2010 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

800 years after the Magna Carta, Brittan remains a two tiered society where one's social standing determines which laws one is subject to. (<-- Including the laws of grammar!)

Dec 23, 2010 at 6:07 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul

Edward Acton seems to be a bit of an O'Brien figure to me.

'They've got you too!' he cried.
'They got me a long time ago,' said O'Brien with a mild, almost regretful irony.

Dec 23, 2010 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Knock, knock, knock.

Neighbor: "Your son drove over my lawn. Look at the mess."

Father: "How do you know it was him? Do you have pictures?"

Neighbor: "Well, no, but the tracks originate next to your driveway"

Father: "Ahem. Let's go have a look. Ah, here we are. Clearly that is not the tread pattern of the tire on the car he drives, and the wheels are too far apart. His car is quite small. No, it couldn't have been him, I'm sorry."

Neighbor: "Grumble, grumble, grumble. Next time I *will* have a camera!"

Door closes.


Son: "What? You said..."

Father: "Crap with what I said. It was you. Give me the car keys, you're grounded for a month. Oh, and...<clickclickclick> Sign this."

Son: "What is it?"

Father: "You're promising never to do what you say you didn't do."

Dec 23, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

Macsporan, what bad practice from climate scientists would you not justify on the basis of the planet being 'about to tip off the edge of catastrophe'? Is there any behaviour you would disallow? Is the collapse of public trust in climate science a problem to you? Do you not think improved behaviour might help? How are you encouraging that by shooting the messengers?

Dec 23, 2010 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

For a while, in my youth, I lived in Norfolk. The pace of life was slow back then but I would have thought that sleepy lifestyle would have changed by now, which leads me to my question. When the heck are the Norfolk plods going to announce their findings over the leaks?

Dec 24, 2010 at 12:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Frosty saith: "And Jones still gets to keep his new position Director of Research? Farce."

Director of Research = Chorister For A Creed

Dec 24, 2010 at 3:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

The FOI Act is supposed to oblige government employees to supply information about government, to the citizenry. Yet government employees are the very people exempted from it??
wtf is going on here?

Dec 24, 2010 at 5:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

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