Thursday, June 18, 2015

Avoiding freedom of information in the UK

You're a dodgy British politician who wants to keep your secrets secret from the dirty peasants of the public. But you've just passed a law which says you have to tell them stuff if they ask. How do you resolve this problem? Simple: delete everything:

Emails sent from Downing Street are automatically deleted within three months, it has emerged, with former officials describing the system as “dysfunctional”.

Transparency campaigners have claimed the system is in place to avoid information being released to the public through freedom of information requests.

A former permanent secretary revealed that the automated deletion system was set up just weeks before Tony Blair’s Freedom of Information Act came into effect in January 2005.

Maurice Frankel, director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the timing “very strongly indicates that it was not a coincidence”.

Its difficult to see this as anything other than a deliberate conspiracy to evade transparency. And in New Zealand, it would be illegal unless authorised by the Chief Archivist, thanks to the Public Records Act.

But its not just anti-democratic, its also stupid - because email is now used as an external memory. Need to know who you met on a particular day? Check your email. Need to know what was said? Check your email. But when that email automatically disappears after three months, then that goes out the window. The result is a government which doesn't know what it did or what its doing. Which may perhaps explain why the standard of governance in the UK is so poor: because its central office deliberately blinds and lobotomises itself out of a hatred of the public.