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On the Grounds of ‘national Security,’ Parliament Refuses to Release Information About MPs’ Visits to Pornographic Sites

Parliamentary authorities have refused to say how much porn is being attempted to be viewed on work computers by MPs and their employees, citing “national security.”

The rejection to release the information under the freedom of information act comes after Tory MP Neil Parish resigned after being caught in a “moment of lunacy” looking at pornography at work.

However, authorities rejected a freedom of information request from The Independent ahead of the by-election to replace Mr Parish later this month, citing Section 24(1) of the Act.

The information does not have to be revealed if confidentiality is “necessary for the purpose of safeguarding national security,” according to Section 24.

The refusal is a departure from the Commons’ prior policy, which revealed how many porn sites were blocked on work computers on at least three occasions.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, parliament revealed in 2013 that computers on the parliamentary network had been stopped 309,316 times in the previous year for attempting to access sexual content.

A similar statement in 2015 disclosed roughly 250,000 requests, but that number had dropped to around 24,000 in 2018.

The Commons authorities, however, told The Independent that they had not only banned the most recent FOI request but also erased past disclosures from their website retrospectively.

Authorities cited Section 31(1)(a) and (b), which state that information can be exempted if it is needed for “the prevention or detection of crime” and “the apprehension or prosecution of offenders,” respectively.

Authorities acknowledged that there was “a legitimate public interest in the House of Commons being open and transparent” in their FOI response letter, but that “disclosure of this information would cause substantial risks to the parliamentary network as it would aid malicious groups in their efforts to target the network,” because “both the disclosure of either specific web addresses, categories that are blocked, or totals relating to attempts or access, could provide valuable info”


Because sharing the data would “make the extent of the Parliamentary Network’s blocking and filtering policies public knowledge,” it was decided not to do so.

The block appeared to be part of a larger pattern, according to Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

“It appears that public agencies have been advised not to divulge specifics of their internet usage monitoring for fear of assisting criminal, malevolent, or hostile users in targeting these systems,” he stated.

“Given previous reports that Parliament makes hundreds of thousands of attempts per year to access pornographic websites, it’s implausible to think that hostile users are unaware of this, especially after an MP was caught browsing pornography while in the Commons chamber.”

“They will also be aware that the Parliamentary authorities must be taking precautions to prevent such access,” he continued. The number of tries to see explicit content each year tells us a lot about Parliament, but it doesn’t tell us much about its internet security flaws, especially since the number of failures to prevent access and the sites that haven’t been effectively blocked haven’t been asked.”

“The House of Commons did previously share information on web access requests,” a representative for the Commons administration stated.

“However, following a re-evaluation of the cyber-risk in 2017, it was determined that it posed a security risk and exposed the parliamentary network to an unacceptable level of risk, and future requests were subsequently exempted under the grounds of national security (s.24 FOIA) and law enforcement” (s.31 FOIA).

Mr Parish claimed that he first came across pornography when searching for tractor information by accident, but that he did so on purpose the second time.

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Another Tory MP, Damian Green, was fired as the first secretary of state in 2017 after admitting to lying about the presence of pornographic photos on his House of Commons computer.

He insisted that he did not “download or watch” the pornography, but he admitted that he “should have been unambiguous in my public statements” about the photographs being on his computer.

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