Monday, July 06, 2009

someone's got it in for us, they're planting stories in the press

Bob Dylan lyric too appropriate not to use yet again. Who is trying to frighten users?

It begins with a Daily Telegraph story that a clerk, Lisa Greenwood, in the Department for Children, Schools and Families was sacked for posting a comment about Hazel Blears on theyworkforyou. Unfortunately, no comment including the text quoted exists in any system, and the Torygraph doesn't seem to know which Web site they actually mean.

Further inquiries show that the story originates from a local news agency (South West News) and the DCSF press office. The Telegraph claims that the comment was sent by e-mail, but there are no MySociety sites that accept comments by e-mail, so this cannot be true. TheyWorkForYou doesn't send confirmations by e-mail, so it can't be one of those, although WriteToThem and FixMyStreet do.

Clearly, someone is telling porkies, and using the same as grounds to terminate some poor sod's employment. Now, civil servants are formally bound by oath to renounce partisanship; however, the text doesn't make any reference - if it wasn't invented out of thin air by the DCSF press office - to any political party, only to Hazel Blears' personal financial probity.

It is probably worth remembering at this point that several government ministers have been in the habit of quoting what they claim is other people's private correspondence during parliamentary debates, no doubt because they cannot be sued for what they say in the House. Specifically, Lord Warner, Andrew Miller MP, and Caroline Flint MP used what purported to be private e-mail sent by Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University and Simon Davies of Privacy International and LSE to score points in debates on ID cards and on the NHS National Programme for IT.

Nobody has ever explained how they came by these documents, or whether the quotes were genuine, and the (sigh) mainstream media has displayed zero interest. E-mail messages have the legal status of letters, and even under RIPA it would be hard to consider the campaign to opt out of the NPfIT Spine a question of national security. The government has form for using dubiously acquired, or possibly fictional, private correspondence for partisan ends.

Update: Well, well. She contacted Blears from her own Web site, by clicking a MAILTO link, which of course launched her local (i.e. service) mail client rather than a Hotmail account.

But the issue here is that a minister (with exceptions - Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, of course. Yes, yes) is responsible as an MP to their constituents, and as a minister to Parliament as a whole, i.e. the nation at one remove. Further, it's just fucking indecent and violent, an act of boss brutality. She was on £16,000 at age 38; what else is it?

Far from wanking about trivialities, we ought to demand her reinstatement. If she wants to deal with an organisation that spies on private correspondence for partisan ends, that is.

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