Friday, February 16, 2007

Those Downing Street e-Petitions

ConservativeHome has expressed concern about what happens to the email addresses collected on the Downing Street petitions website. In theory they are allowed to contact petitioners twice by email on the issue that they have protested about. The section in their terms and conditions reads:-
"We will only use the information you provide us for this purpose, and,
unless you ask us not to, to write to you a maximum of two times about the
issues raised in the petition."

Well that's reassuring isn't it? If I were being flippant I might say that this depended on which of the two Downing Street email systems the addresses are being stored on. I suspect that Downing Street has now collected an email database of around 3 million people - a very powerful electoral tool. It would be interesting to know what safeguards have been put in place to protect tje integrity of that database and how many emails have been sent out by Downing Street in response to petitioners (other than automated responses). I feel an FOI coming on.

UPDATE: A reader tells me that of the 346 e-petitions that have now “closed”, No 10 has given responses (ie an actual non-automated response) to 48 of them. These 48 petitions got 40238 signatures. Of course some people might have signed more than one.

23 comments:

Ed said...

I expect that now the government know I oppose a lot of their policies, come the election I will be escorted to the polling booth by a large man with a gun. Welcome to Zimbabwe Britain.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I know a little about the Data Protection Act, and have had a look at the e-petition site. There seem to be none of the normal opt-out clauses that are usually attached where data collection is carried out, and some of the wording looks more than a little weaselly.

A job for m'learned friends here. I'm certainly not giving them any of my details.

thatcher said...

Thanks for this info!

Anonymous said...
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Wrinkled Weasel said...

I don't bother with these online petitions, but unless you are very naive, you will be using a junk, web-based email address to record your interest.

That pre-supposes that you believe the Government gives a shit what you think.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest the use of one of the disposable e-mail account services

Anonymous said...

May I recommend something like

10minutemail.com/

For registering on any websites you might not want to have your email address.


I haven't signed any petitions for this very reason, not because I don't agree with them. A bit paranoid maybe, but even so...

Anonymous said...

Would their systems crash if 3 million people replied?

Sabretache said...

My guess is that most of the 28,000 who have signed the Hunting Bill petition (3rd highest number of sigs) will have no illusions about Labour Party/Government interest in them and their email addresses. To a man they are likely to do all in their power to ensure that Labour does not form the next government. They had an effect last time and are likely to be even better organised next.

When I signed it, it certainly crossed my mind that I was providing a ruthless enemy with information that it may find useful and would certainly have no compunction about using to further its aims. Seems to me that the temptation to use such information for party political purposes will be well nigh irresistible should an advantageous use present itself.

Mike Wood said...
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Anonymous said...

I am afraid I have refused to get involved with any of these petitions. I think you are, as ever 'bang on the money' here.

The Information Commissioner has recently ruled that many Government departments can 'merge' their data.

I have worked for a large financial services organisation that did this. It is incredibly powerful in a 'Big Brother' sense. I would go as far as saying that it can to practical purposes create an ID card-type database by stealth.

If the Information Commissioner can be this lax about government databases, then I'm afraid I don't trust him with my email address.

Unless I get one with something like 'flopsybunny@hoohaa.com'..

Guido 2.0 said...

Spamming is wrong, isn't it, Iain?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry unduly. Government IT systems are appalling and not joined up and it would take lots of money to join them up. If the information was used for party political purposes then there would be uproar, complaints and lawsuits. You have to stick your head above the parapet as a citizen now and again.

How about a petition restricting the use of petition information?

Alternatively, support this worthy one:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Fixed-term-govt/

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to initiate a Bill that will set a fixed term between general elections and a fixed term of the office of Prime Minister with an annual vote of confidence in the Prime Minister taken by the House of Commons"

Anonymous said...

You will get one reply pointing to their response.

I'm not sure what they are saving the other reply for?

It seems a little strange they they wish to keep the data for a second email shot. I think they would need to justify why they would want to keep all this data. Personal data must be kept for a reason. It is simply not good enough to say "We will contact you", under the Data Protection Act you need to say "Why they will contact you."

It looks like the wording on the No Website is not-complaint - because it doesn't say why you will be contacted. They are therefore breaking the law.

I think somebody ought to contact the Data Commissionar to seek clarification on this.

Newmania said...

I feel an FOI coming on.


Good post Iain. These petitions are designed to blunt opposition not to allow it to have a voice. It isn1t just the one petition but the whole feedback I suddenly se is a perfect free mareketing sample for the Labout Party.

Am I paranoid because this seriously worries me ?

Anonymous said...

If I was adding my name to a petition I would insert a code into the name so that I could trace any subsequent contacts.

Put your name as something like "Iain Dale12" or your address with a coded house name.

Ed said...

My petition got an "answer":

http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page10809.asp

I wonder how many meetings it took to formulate the response...

Anonymous said...

All the source code which runs petitions is at https://secure.mysociety.org/cvstrac/dir?d=mysociety/pet

Do you really think that the people who built the petitions site (who happen to be some of the same people behind www.writetothem.com and www.theyworkforyou.com) wouldn't have thought of this, and would not have ensured that the abuse you're talking about was tracable, even if it was possible, and was minimised to the lowest possible levels?


Having signed up to various petitions with unique email addresses, it's not hard to track that the addresses don't go anywhere else.

In Like Flynn said...

I tried to sign up to the petition to repeal the Hunting Act and they never sent me an email so that i could confirm.

Then signed up to a less controversial petition with no problems at all.

They are crafty foxes...

Anonymous said...

If one were really paranoid, this could be seen as a cunning ploy to deter petitioners!

If home and email addresses from a No 10 website somehow ended up in the Labour Party database, someone would end up in court, probably in jail.

None of us should be afraid of speaking out in public by signing petitions. There is no law against it. We can all have noms de blog and this encourages free speech and debate, but there comes a time when you have to stick your neck out and say what you believe in public.

Anonymous said...

That's why in Blair's Kingdom some of us post anonymously on blogs.

Mostly Ordinary said...

Looks like I'm going to get a jolly good one-to-one spinning:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6372877.stm