I was on BBC’s Daily Politics show Thursday, 17 January 2013 discussing opening up government databases with Stephan Skakespeare who is leading the government’s review. The main point I hope I made is that access to data should be determined by what is in the public interest not necessarily that which can turn a profit.
Check out the Guardian’s Prince Charles page for the latest news on our unelected and unaccountable heir to the throne.
You couldn’t make it up. While the UK Transparency twitter feed was sending out gushing messages about Cabinet Minister Francis Maude’s latest open government agenda, Speaker John Bercow, in cahoots with Tory MP Julian Lewis, was trying a rear-guard action to keep MPs’ expenses secret.
You’d have thought Bercow might remember how his predecessor was brought low due to his obstinate stance on publishing expenses. But no. They’re at it again. Even a High Court ruling isn’t getting in their way. In 2008, MPs argued against my freedom of information request to disclose the full details of their second home allowance and address. They claimed such disclosure would endanger them. They had no proof. Just their own paranoid narcissism. Three of the nation’s top judges ruled in my favour saying that public accountability required the claims and addresses be published. Now some MPs are trying to subvert that ruling by stealth. The new broom, it seems, still has some sweeping to do.
I had a few words to say about it on Sky News.
Newsnight reporter Allegra Stratton reported on the April 5th show (I’m looking for a link to this package) that the Government is planning to introduce fees for making Freedom of Information requests.
We’ve been here before (back in 2004/05) when the law was first introduced. No surprise that politicians who were once in favour of FOI when in opposition suddenly lose their appetite for the people’s right to know once in power. It usually takes about 12 months, so this government is doing well to last as long as it has.
I am of the opinion that it’s unlikely for these moves to succeed. We are still awaiting the report from Parliament’s post-judicial scrutiny on Freedom of Information. And do politicians and bureaucrats really want to come out against FOI at a time when cuts are being made and FOI has shown itself to be one of the most effective (and cost-effective) ways to cut waste, inefficiency and corruption? Making it harder for the citizens to get answers on how public money is spent is going to be a public relations disaster, so I hope sane heads prevail in Parliament.
Above, I am discussing the issue with Jonathan Baume, head of the First Division Association (FDA), the union for senior civil servants:
Random House have done a trailer for my upcoming book: The Revolution Will Be Digitised. Available from August 18th.
Discussing superinjunctions and Twitter on Sky News.
A piece I recorded for the BBC Daily Politics show on the 2011 Census.
A panel discussion at the Frontline Club on how online data and its dissemination is changing journalism and the relationship between public and power.
The panel comprised Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief (via online link up); journalist, academic and freedom of expression activist Heather Brooke, whose successful campaigning led to the full release of MPs’ expenses files; media lawyer Mark Stephens of Finers, Stephens Innocent and Simon Rogers, editor of The Guardian’s Datablog.
Chaired by Paddy O’Connell, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
With guest speakers Heather Brooke, expenses campaigner and author of ‘The Silent State’ and Sacha Deshmukh, CEO, ENGINE Business .
Speaking on Secrets and Surveillance at the RSA, London on 15 April 2010, followed by questions.
Britain’s political establishment is still recovering from last year’s scandal surrounding Members of Parliament and their expenses. As accounts of lawmakers’ claims were revealed in the press, public anger grew and their popularity nosedived.
Heather Brooke is the journalist and campaigner whose investigations exposed the opaqueness of the expenses system. She talks to Sarah Montague about the culture of secrecy in Britain and the importance of making public information more accessible.
A segment on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe show in which I discuss the naming of official spokespeople.
Here is a talk I gave to the Centre for Investigative Journalism this summer, for those interested in hearing the full tale of how I battled to obtain MPs’ expenses.
A short interview piece for ITN on the criminal investigation into MPs’ expense claims.
I recorded a short interview with BBC America covering some of the background to the expenses scandal.
Debating the MPs expenses scandal on Channel 4 News with presenter Jon Snow and MP Stuart Bell.
A documentary I presented for Channel 4’s Dispatches, using publicly available information on politicians’ expense claims to piece together a forensic insight into how our money is being spent.
I worked with writer Henry Porter to explore the extent of universal surveillance in the UK, and whether the rights we have under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information give us any kind of protection to ensure this slew of personal information is not misused.
As a follow up to this documentary, I would note that of the five requests we made for CCTV footage of Henry, we received only one film within the statutory time limit and only after numerous follow-ups. We were made to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops that made the system in essence unusable to the general public. The fact is that while on paper you have a right to CCTV footage of yourself, in practice the chances of you actually getting it are slim to none. The Ministry of Defence also said it would provide the footage but we did not receive it within the statutory time limit.
While Parliament released the footage of Henry standing outside the House of Commons, an official there told us we could not use the footage in any way without the written permission of Parliament. Surely personal information is owned by the person in question and the only permission needed should be from that person? This is not the case in the UK where the government seems always to exert control by holding the copyright even for personal information.
Another film about CCTV which will hopefully be released soon is ‘Every Step You Take’.