Friday, June 19, 2009

Redaction: you can see why someone sold out to the Telegraph

When I discovered that the preparation of the expense claims prior to publication had been contracted out to a private company, the leak made more sense. I still wasn't wildly impressed, as it was likely to impact on the privacy of individuals who had nothing to do with the MP expense fiasco.

However, now that we've seen what the Parliamentary authorities were planning to publish, you begin to appreciate why someone might feel tempted to 'disinfect using sunlight'. As an attempt at transparency, yesterday's publication was as opaque as a lead-coated window, and risks incensing public opinion further.

That said, Parliamentary advice is that you shouldn't publish details of your home address for security reasons. After all, in an age where respect for the individual is in such short supply, and the relationship between the public and politicians is so poor - a problem which arose long before 'Expensegate' - do you want to provoke people to harass MPs, Peers or even councillors in their own homes? And we've seen that happen - who were those people pictured outside Chris Rennard's house in Stockwell recently throwing a beach party? Regardless of what MPs may have done, I'd rather the law deal with them than encourage or endorse vigilantism.

At the end of the day, MPs are people too, with a right to privacy when they are not performing their public duties. If we whip up public opprobium to a point where people withdraw from politics because they aren't willing to put their families in jeopardy, we may find ourselves worse off in the long run.

There must be a way in which we can ensure proper, rigorous inspection of MP expenses whilst protecting privacy. The challenge is to meet that goal...

1 comment:

Paul Walter said...

200 MPs actually said they didn't want any redaction of their claims, including thier own address. So it seems daft to go ahead and redact their claims anyway (especially when some of those MPs have published the claims unredacted themselves).

Most MPs home addresses (at least the ones in their constituencies) are already published. Many MPs regard this as part of being available for constituents (similar to having their phone number in the directory).

Surely at least the town part of the address ought to be released to allow assessment of second home claims by the public? Otherwise it is impossible to make sense of the largest element of the claims.