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British Gov't Releases Spending Data

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the let's-play-catch-up dept.

United Kingdom 89

An anonymous reader writes "In a move sure to have transparency activists salivating, the UK government has released some 195,000 lines of data detailing its financial outgoings. The BBC reports that 'All spending of more than £25,000 made between May and September was published — in line with a pre-election commitment by the Conservatives — although some departments also published spending over £500. People are being encouraged to pick through the enormous quantity of online information to spot waste and hold ministers to account.'"

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89 comments

The way to go (4, Interesting)

JcMorin (930466) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291068)

I think that it should be the case for all country all the time, all department should have a drill down budget up the spending. Yes that would add an extra layer but you could remove all the "inspector" and "auditor" because if all data is online, the population and journalism will do that job. Also, many spending will be avoid because they will know it will be fully available online!

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291144)

Yeah, there is no value in professional auditors with experience in spotting sophisticated fraudulent activity. This is why no open source distribution has suffered embarrassingly simple flaws present for months to years.

I'd like to start off by looking at the drill down funding to the military-industrial complex, particularly security services. Oh, what's that? This is specifically designed to get people to "discover" wastage where the government wants to make cutbacks, so I won't be able to do that?

Re:The way to go (4, Informative)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291280)

Yeah, there is no value in professional auditors with experience in spotting sophisticated fraudulent activity.

Well, they don't seem to have made any impact at the EU! [dailymail.co.uk]

Re:The way to go (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291296)

First off, give a better link than the Daily Mail if you want anyone to take you seriously. Second, you linked to an article about professional auditors finding fraud and waste, not exactly backing your argument too well there.

Re:The way to go (3, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291742)

Second, you linked to an article about professional auditors finding fraud and waste, not exactly backing your argument too well there.

Assuming the article is factually correct, auditors have found fraud and waste for the last 15 years as well, and nothing happened. Therefore, the audit process itself is ineffective, even though the auditors themselves are not.

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292086)

No, the audit process is fine. It is just that no one with sufficient power wants to do anything about it. Similarly, everyone paying attention knew how MPs would claim excessive expenses, but no major media outlet would make a fuss until the Barclay brothers got fed up with the government pointing the finger at financiers/bankers for all that is wrong in the world.

And the only information which will be sung about as a result of these publications is information which suits special interests of the sufficiently powerful. Other corruptions will remain known about, and ignored. I can only assume that anyone who thinks the Tories' service reduction exercises actually reduce government expenditure was not born before 1990. Irish wake, anyone?

Re:The way to go (1)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292166)

but no major media outlet would make a fuss until the Barclay brothers got fed up with the government pointing the finger at financiers/bankers for all that is wrong in the world.

No. In the case of the MPs, the story broke because someone sold The Telegraph a CD of the MPs itemised expense claims [thefirstpost.co.uk] , and the receipts they used to support their claims.

...servicemen on leave between tours were used to provide security at the offices where parliamentary staff were going through all the MPs' expenses claims.

One of the servicemen was so angered by the MPs' lavish claims that he decided to leak the material.

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293248)

Sigh, welcome to the media.

1. The structure of the article may suggest a connection between AnonymousLeaker and Mackay, but doesn't actually assert one, knocking its credibility. He remains AnonymousLeaker;

2. Expenses were due for official publication in June 2009 anyway. The slightly early (May) and very media-hyped leak effort could not have been for the reason argued in the article;

3. Like I said, you need to focus on the extent to which the news was covered and the time at which it was covered. The presence of information about anything anywhere is highly overrated: what matters is how many people are effectively driven to care about it.

Re:The way to go (1)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294920)

  1. The structure of the article may suggest a connection between AnonymousLeaker and Mackay

    No it does not. MacKay is a separate story. The leaker is clearly someone else.

  2. Expenses were due for official publication in June 2009 anyway.

    The official publication was redacted [bbc.co.uk] , there would have been no real scandal. The CD sold to the Telegraph was copies of the originals.

Re:The way to go (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293308)

No, the audit process is fine. It is just that no one with sufficient power wants to do anything about it.

That second sentence, by itself, breaks the audit process. Responding in a useful way to the results of an audit is part of the audit process.

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294884)

No, don't be the stubborn geek mired in a definition game.

While the auditing process may include a determination of how well an organisation improved on the criticisms of previous audits, it ends at the report. Just because Computer Engineering 101 likes to create neat little closed loops to demonstrate a feedback cycle (evaluate, improve, evaluate, improve...) it doesn't mean it is appropriate to include "improve" in every process diagram.

Why? Because there is separation of privilege/responsibility and the improvement is often part of a parent process, if you like to look at it that way. The job of the auditor is emphatically not to play with the answers, just to report on them. He is not failing when someone doesn't act on his results the way you'd want him to (assuming they make sense).

In the specific case of the EU we have the people failing to care. Depending on how you look at it, that is either a failure or a success of democracy: the people have prioritised and decided that they don't really care about the level of EU wastage/corruption, as perhaps there are greater things to worry about.

AFK, goodnight.

Re:The way to go (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34295396)

No, don't be the stubborn geek mired in a definition game.

While the auditing process may include a determination of how well an organisation improved on the criticisms of previous audits, it ends at the report.

I'm not playing the "definition game". I'm just pointing out that you are wrong here.

He is not failing when someone doesn't act on his results the way you'd want him to (assuming they make sense).

As I pointed out, the auditing process is not just the audit, it is also how the organization responds to the audit. In the EU example, we see that the auditor can successfully issue an audit report, yet the audit be unsuccessful because no one acts on it.

In the specific case of the EU we have the people failing to care. Depending on how you look at it, that is either a failure or a success of democracy: the people have prioritised and decided that they don't really care about the level of EU wastage/corruption, as perhaps there are greater things to worry about.

Eh, the EU seems to be a technocracy with only a modest amount of democratic input. It's real convenient to blame it all on "the people failing to care". But the game is rigged to avoid interference from the people. So I don't see the above as a valid complaint.

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34296786)

I'm not playing the "definition game". I'm just pointing out that you are wrong here. [...] Eh, the EU seems to be a technocracy with only a modest amount of democratic input.

Oh, I see. You're just trying to get away with putting the blame on the wrong people for the EU's problems. In truth the audit process was successful but those requesting the audit did not consider it necessary to follow the recommendations in the report: the people have not used their EU votes to effect change in EU Parliament, nor have they put pressure on their national governments. But it is so much easier to wave it off as a "process failure" by those dictatorial technocrats.

As I pointed out, the auditing process is not just the audit, it is also how the organization responds to the audit.

You're acting like a child. An "auditing process" in its most inclusive sense (though it is not so presented in the literature for the reasons described, I'm going to throw you a bone to illustrate how you are making incorrect assumptions from it) could be summarised: plan, fieldwork, report, respond, implement, followup. But you wrongly believe "respond" means "do everything in the report says"; it simply means that management request a particular response which they consider appropriate, armed with the information in the report. The audit process is still successfully completed even if "response" is "do nothing" and "implement" is "nothing done" - providing the report in "follow-up" asserts that none of the recommendations were followed.

IOW, auditors are independent and the organisation requesting audit has the privilege of deciding that it is not appropriate to follow explicit or implied advice in the report. Otherwise the value of auditing would be greatly diminished.

Regardless, you are surely not so obtuse as to think it is a failure of auditors if the response is not what you liked. Since the original discussion was the value of the professional audit vs some stupid Web 2.0 crowd-audit, it is a shame that you were not cognitively able to recognise the argument in context.

Re:The way to go (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34296940)

Oh, I see. You're just trying to get away with putting the blame on the wrong people for the EU's problems.

I'm succeeding too, because the "wrong people" aren't. I don't understand the point of your accusations. You are simply wrong here. Accusing me of childishness, cognitive shortcomings, or misunderstanding the context of the thread won't change that.

Just to repeat one last time, the audit process is never just the audit. Period. There's always a relevant context in which the question "How well are we doing?" is asked. And the context always has an expectation of some sort of corrective action (expectation doesn't equal action, of course), if the audit turns up problems.

As to the bizarre act of blaming people for voting for the wrong people, I see it as a really bad control problem. Consider the automobile as a control system. Many parts of it, particularly the steering wheel are very intuitive. You twist the steering wheel from the top and it goes the way you pull it. Now consider your vote for a member of parliament. First, you only vote for at most a few members (I don't know how countries allot their representatives, but you're not voting for everyone). So you start with a very small steering wheel. And if a majority of the people don't care about the audit, then that's a fail right there, as you note.

But here's the thing. Even if everyone is keen on auditing leading to concrete reform, you still have to figure out which of the candidates you can vote for, will implement it better. No offense, but every politician already probably publicly agrees that the government audits should be acted on. So why aren't these audits being taken seriously? It's probably some combination of apathy, deception, incompetence, and self-interest throughout the government. Voting is not a precise control system. So I think it's a conceit to think that merely voting will result in the desired changes.

Then you need to consider that there are ways to bypass the only part of the EU that you can directly vote for. And the technocracy is immune to all but an aggressive assault by the parliament which either fires people or cuts funding. The steering mechanism grows more erratic.

My point here is that while the vote is a powerful tool, it's also very blunt and unwieldly, hence, not the best tool for this problem. Instead, private groups which aggressively pressure the bureaucracies and politicians would be more effective. That is, what's called in the US "petition for redress of grievances". The release of public financial data aids that process greatly.

Regardless, you are surely not so obtuse as to think it is a failure of auditors if the response is not what you liked. Since the original discussion was the value of the professional audit vs some stupid Web 2.0 crowd-audit, it is a shame that you were not cognitively able to recognise the argument in context.

I never said it was a failure of the auditors. In fact, I wrote to the contrary in the post to which you replied. As to the value of the "stupid Web 2.0 crowd-audit", not everyone is an idiot with a computer. A number of people are professional auditors (as in they'll get paid to go through this stuff). And a number of other people are good enough that they can find problems merely by looking for them! The larger pool of observers means both that it's more likely that problems will be spotted and that action to correct those problems will occur.

Re:The way to go (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34297026)

You are simply wrong here. [...] And the context always has an expectation of some sort of corrective action

I hope the above effectively summarises your mistake: you believe that it is the audit process which effects corrective action, while the audit process is merely there to report on the initial state of affairs and then possibly the response to the report. I've tried to explain this in two different ways already, so I think you're being deliberately childishly stubborn because you don't want to accept responsibility or perhaps accept that you have learned something.

It is the parent process, as it were - probably some process of good accounting - which may have experienced a failure. But the audit process worked.

And if a majority of the people don't care about the audit, then that's a fail right there, as you note.

Assuming that excellent accounting is even an aim. It may be that the representatives through the people want to make sure that the accounts are not insanely wrong, but everyone's life is good enough that they will tolerate a degree of corruption and bad accounting.

technocracy is immune to all but an aggressive assault by the parliament which either fires people or cuts funding.

It's rather revealing that you consider simply firing the incompetent/corrupt or denying them funds to be an "aggressive assault". You are also ignoring the input of democratically elected national governments.

And a number of other people are good enough that they can find problems merely by looking for them!

Again, you are missing the point. It is not that problems are not found, it is that no-one cares about the problems. Some people do not even regard the issues as problems: not just the corrupt who benefit directly, but the people who are satisfied enough with the way they are ruled that they are happy to let their leaders get away with a level of personal gain. This applies to the relationship between Western voters and their governments in general.

Re:The way to go (1)

Xest (935314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304082)

"Assuming the article is factually correct"

It wont be, it's The Daily Mail.

Re:The way to go (1)

jhigh (657789) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291504)

I think that it should be the case for all country all the time, all department should have a drill down budget up the spending.

This part of your post, I absolutely agree with. However, legislators find it very difficult to write these kinds of laws in a way that makes the database effective without technical people being involved. Remember that government is very large and complicated, with lots of moving parts. Also, none of the departments want people to know how they're spending money, because it means accountability. Therefore, the legislation has to be very carefully crafted to keep departments from making data available in a large encrypted PDF or something ridiculous, in an intentional effort to keep the data from being usable.

Re:The way to go (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291604)

Yes that would add an extra layer but you could remove all the "inspector" and "auditor" because if all data is online, the population and journalism will do that job.

Sure, if you believe that having people look through the data looking for waste (and be assured they'll find it, everything is waste to someone) and journalists looking for sensationalism accomplishes the same job as an inspector or an auditor... Myself, I put that in the same category as believing in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus.

Re:The way to go (1)

madprof (4723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292300)

This is nonsense. The general public are not well-equipped to work out what is important or not. It is great we can see what is spent, and it is only right. But people can now see that we spent £1000 on a jewel-encrusted dog collar. This looks stupid. The headlines can say we wasted a grand on a dog collar. Aren't we so powerful now, eh?

Except we waste, literally, millions of times more money than this. I don't care about a dog collar when we are buying a £2.5 billion aircraft carrier that has no aircraft.

We still need professional auditors to sort this sort of thing out. It is a full time job for large teams of people to work out where the real waste is.

Great that they make it available however.

Re:The way to go (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292390)

I agree with you. Apart from the fact that the public has no way of knowing if items are needed or not, there is also the fact that one person has a different idea of what "waste" is vs another. To me, it's wasteful that we spend billions on the war against drugs, but hey.. others feel differently.

I'm a little confused about your aircraft carrier comment. One doesn't typically buy warships from the same company that makes aircraft, so why would an aircraft carrier come with aircraft? That's like complaining because the garbage truck you just bought isn't filled with garbage.

Re:The way to go (1)

Simmeh (1320813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292890)

His point is the MoD lacks the cash to fill it with aircraft, hence it is a wasteful expense.

Re:The way to go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34292912)

The carrier comment is related to the fact that we are purchasing a carrier, but the government has decided not to spend any money on aircraft to put on it. We will have an aircraft carrier with no aircraft for it to carry.

Seriously.

Re:The way to go (1)

RadioElectric (1060098) | more than 3 years ago | (#34297090)

Maybe we could build cheap housing on it?

Re:The way to go (1)

madprof (4723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34301588)

Brilliant idea. Float it down the Thames to provide cheap starter homes for the people who can't afford to live in the centre of the capital. Or they could put social housing on for the people who are about to be forced to move due to housing benefit cuts.

Re:The way to go (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304604)

I'm a little confused about your aircraft carrier comment. One doesn't typically buy warships from the same company that makes aircraft, so why would an aircraft carrier come with aircraft? That's like complaining because the garbage truck you just bought isn't filled with garbage.

No, the UK government in its wisdom has decided to buy aircraft carriers even though we can't afford to buy any aircraft to run off it at the moment. So it is more like buying a garbage truck but not being able to afford diesel to run it or drivers to operate it.

Re:The way to go (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34312064)

Well, there is still some logic to it. It typically takes 2-3 years to build an aircraft carrier, while airplanes can be built within 6 months in most cases. So you want the aircraft carrier to be ready when you're ready to buy the planes, otherwise you have planes without an aircraft carrier.

Further, one would assume they already have airplanes that could use the carrier if it was needed.

Re:The way to go (1)

madprof (4723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34359280)

The aircraft carrier deal was done to prop up Glasgow shipyards I suspect. How else to explain a contract that means it costs more *not* to start building the ships than to build them?

Re:The way to go (1)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293204)

I think that it should be the case for all country all the time, all department should have a drill down budget up the spending. Yes that would add an extra layer but you could remove all the "inspector" and "auditor" because if all data is online, the population and journalism will do that job. Also, many spending will be avoid because they will know it will be fully available online!

If I had points I'd mod this funny, though I'm not sure whether it's intentional or just me being a cynical auditor.

When information is released publicly, controls are certainly not relaxed over it due to some notion that the public will do the work for you. What happens is control is ramped up to absurd levels because to the organisation public examination is not a control - it is a threat. The perceived risk actually becomes much higher. Any organisation puts vastly more controls over a press release than it does an internal memo because the consequences of a gaffe are vastly greater.

Currently, most organisations take a balanced approach to risk and control. Control is expensive, time-consuming and in excess makes the organisation sluggish - pretty much the definition of bureaucracy. Risks have to be responded to reasonably, there has to be a net saving once the costs of control are deducted from the savings made by that control.

The transactions being disclosed are also unlikely to qualify as "information"; without context it's just data. Something that looks suspect may have a perfectly reasonable explanation, but getting that explanation means querying the organisation. Despite the detailed planning memo, internal meetings and the previous-year's file in my hand, for every hour I'm on audit I guess I take up at least half an hour of a (mostly senior) member of staff's time, and this is without them having to triple-check their responses because it's going public. Yet more expense incurred by the organisation responding to queries.

And lets be honest here, the vast majority of the public have extremely little knowledge either of accounting generally or the specific organisation. This is why we use highly qualified and experienced professional auditors.

In any case, the observer effect is often not desirable. Do you want managers making decisions in the best interests of the public or wholly concerned about how it may be manipulated in the tabloids? Again, balance is required because monitoring itself can lead to undesired effects.

There certainly is good argument for giving the public information they require, it is taxpayers money after all. But as with everything there has to be balance - no sensible person claims that in order for speech to be free you have to be free to shout fire in a theatre. Simply having the books available for inspection at the place of business (rather than on the internet) would be quite an effective way to filter out time-wasters while upholding the principle of free access.

Re:The way to go (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34296542)

Yes that would add an extra layer but you could remove all the "inspector" and "auditor" because if all data is online

Do you think auditors just look at the final figures and check that they add up? Or just decide that this ones too low and that one's too high based on the phase of the moon and the wind direction?

There's a bit more to it than your simplistic view assumes.

There's also an examination of the processes that calculate the figures and how expenditure is controlled.

I can only conclude that the nearest you've been to an audit is counting the money from your paper round.

the population and journalism will do that job. Also, many spending will be avoid because they will know it will be fully available online!

OMG Look! Department X spent twice as much as Y on bog roll! It's obviously too much!

Is it enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291074)

This is a good start. But the level of detail is not enough. They're only totals. I mean how do you go about "saving waste" when all you have to work with is e.g. Company - SomeWork - £2,000,000? We need a more detailed breakdown.

Re:Is it enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291160)

That's usually enough information. Keep in mind that the equation is generally:

Government + Lots of Money = Waste

It's the same for corporations, too:

Corporation + Lots of Money = Waste

At least in the corporate case, they USUALLY didn't take the money from other people by threat of force.

FB (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291076)

If I was on Facebook right now I would've "liked" it.

Is to much data a good thing (1, Interesting)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291106)

I know the slashdot crowd has this belief that openess and data are a good idea, but will that crowd be willing to change their mind if this turns out to be a bad idea ? What will happen with this flood of data ?
well, very few people will actually go thru it; those who do are highly motivated - either paid searchers, hired, by say the brit equivalent of the Koch brothers, or cranks, or whatever
What ever they find, most of it will be unkown unless published by the media
so , in the end, you don't have this utopian vision of the citizenry rising up to the task of rooting out fraud and abuse; you have people like the republicans who claimed Obama was spending 200 million dollars a day yelling loudly about their pet peeves...br? I predict this will be a bad thing all round

Re:Is to much data a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291120)

Yeah, this is a bad thing because having an opportunity is always a bad thing.

Oh, wait.

It boils down to a right to know. I can already see the partisanship of your post by your blind swipe at Republicans. You're just another goose stepper in a long line of goose steppers.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (3, Insightful)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291146)

I suspect the most dogmatic reviewers will be freelance journalists, looking for a good story to sell.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34296484)

Looks like they'll be disappointed. The aggregate figures tell you nothing of interest.

This is no more than another Cameron gimmick.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (4, Informative)

Marcika (1003625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291278)

well, very few people will actually go thru it; those who do are highly motivated - either paid searchers, hired, by say the brit equivalent of the Koch brothers, or cranks, or whatever What ever they find, most of it will be unkown unless published by the media

The UK equivalent of the Kochs are the Barclay brothers, and they own the media (at least the parts not already owned by Murdoch or the Rothschilds). Their paid searchers occasionally dig up some really interesting material... The 2009 UK parliamentary expenses scandal, for instance, was a nice scoop for the Barclay Brothers' Daily Telegraph...

Re:Is to much data a good thing (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291428)

so , in the end, you don't have this utopian vision of the citizenry rising up to the task of rooting out fraud and abuse; you have people like the republicans who claimed Obama was spending 200 million dollars a day yelling loudly about their pet peeves...br? I predict this will be a bad thing all round

I'd take your prediction a little bit more seriously, if you hadn't put knee-jerks about Koch brothers or the Republicans in there. Democracy doesn't have much point to it, if nobody aside from the people in charge knows what's going on. Handing ammunition in the form of knowledge to your opponents is a feature not a bug of this idea. They are after all the ones with the greatest stake in finding legitimate problems.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291546)

Yeah, I knew the fact that this data was leaked by Conservatives would instantly cause certain people to construct an mental frame such that this act comes out sounding bad. Seen it many, many times, and it doesn't matter what subject it is. Many times, people don't even realize they're doing it, it's just a reflex.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

war4peace (1628283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291584)

I beg to differ.
There's a wide array of free Data Visualization tools available, which can be used even by non-technical people to build nice looking reports and extract interesting data out of raw stuff. Tableau Public (http://www.tableausoftware.com/public/) is one of them, I used it extensively to understand many datasets - it's free and gets the job done with simplicity.
The problem resides somewhere else: The datasets are spread in a gazillion files, don't have an unified format, require a lot of work to download (each one is on separate pages/links, etc.), some are gathered together in weird formats (someone above mentioned read-only PDFs as an example; I've seen scanned TIFs, BMPs, you name it!) and so on.
I personally prefer large datasets with many columns which I can then filter the way aI want using either Tableau Public or more advanced data visualization tools (Miner3D, Oracle CRM On Demand Analytics, etc.) - as long as the data format is unified across the scale.

I think the next step in ensuring the data is as readable as possible would be to make governments unify data and present it in the same easily readable format. I'm sure there's a lot of people willing to analyze the data for free (myself included, although I am not from UK or US) :)

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291612)

Even if nobody looks through it, the data should be available to the citizenry if they want it. This is good in and of itself.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292900)

I know the slashdot crowd has this belief that openess and data are a good idea,

Don't confuse good with perfect. Releasing the information is no panacea, just as the principle of "no taxatation without representation" was not a panacea either. But the alternative is much worse.

Re:Is to much data a good thing (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293372)

well, very few people will actually go thru it; those who do are highly motivated

You can bet that people who go through it will be highly motivated indeed, because they will be hired by political opponents of the ruling party, and will be looking hard for anything to raise hell over.

Which is perfectly fine. Sure, they are biased as hell, but what matters is that they draw attention to the more interesting bits. Once it gets publicity, we'll have some unbiased reviews of the same data to see if the claims hold up or not.

No one actually checks the data (5, Interesting)

genjix (959457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291136)

When Julian Assange first released Wikileaks he said that seeing what was being done with Wikipedia gave him the idea that if you just put the stuff out there then the crowds will mold and form it into something useful. He expected blogs and independent third parties to spring up out of the woodwork. So Wikileaks published the data and.... nothing.

Not even the newspapers picked up on the leaks because of the bystander effect. No news agency is willing to invest the resources and waits for someone else to do the hard work. Everything stalls and it falls into obscurity. The crowds just ignore it since there's this overwhelming heap of obscure data.

Having learnt through several iterations, Wikileaks now bids leaks to a news agency who gets a lock in period to go through all the data, pick out the juiciest stories and publish. After that Wikileaks releases the full data together with indicators and summaries of the data to direct the crowds.

Just dumping a huge mess of contextless data does nothing. You need contextual hints so people know where to start. You need experts to translate the internal jargon.

Re:No one actually checks the data (2, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291242)

You could argue that this works to the best interest of the releasers—after all, this is something the government are doing themselves, not a leak.

Re:No one actually checks the data (3, Insightful)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291266)

??

The British government is not some obscure website gagging for a mention in the press.

British newspapers love a scandal, and they'll be expecting to find lots.

Re:No one actually checks the data (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34295852)

British newspapers love a scandal, and they'll be expecting to find lots.

Which means they'll find it - even if they have to create it.

Re:No one actually checks the data (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291352)

You forgot all the talk about the moat cleaning expenses [telegraph.co.uk] ? That is quite well known even outside of England.

If that bit was interesting enough for the huge amount of discussion that came from it, you can bet right this minute there are lots of people and media organizations trying to find something juicy in there.

Re:No one actually checks the data (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304636)

In the end though, a few hundred thousand on dubious expenses was chickenfeed compared to the tens of billions we, the UK taxpayers, had to spend bailing out the corrupt, greedy and ultimately pointless banking/financial system.

Not true (1)

chrb (1083577) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292090)

So Wikileaks published the data and.... nothing.

Not true. The Guardian did a weekend special with pages and pages covering the Wikileaks data, and they continued to publish articles based on the Wikileaks data for a week afterwards. They have an online tag for Wikileaks articles: guardian.co.uk/media/wikileaks [guardian.co.uk] shows 474 articles, many of them mentioning "war logs" in the title. They also published Afghanistan: the war logs [guardian.co.uk] and Iraq: the war logs [guardian.co.uk] , with numerous articles based directly on the leaked data. Likewise, the New York Times published the series The War Logs [nytimes.com] based on the leaked data, as did Der Spiegel [spiegel.de] .

I know what you are getting at though,and the Guardian also had an editorial talking about this point (Assange is 'force-feeding truth to a world that has no stomach for it' [guardian.co.uk] ): that the released data has been ignored by much of the mainstream media, whereas in the past in would've been lapped up. Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers was widely examined and discussed in the media, and this hasn't happened so much with the Wikileaks data. They blame general resignation and apathy amongst the population, and a lack of people who are willing to stand up and actually protest against the things that are done in their name. However, I have another hypothesis: the opponents of Wikileaks have done a really great job at getting the media to shoot the messenger, rather than listen to the message.

The anti-Wikileaks organisations have become much, much better at handling the media than they were during the time of the Vietnam war. The Pentagon has a put together a team of 120 people to deal with the Wikileaks problem [bbc.co.uk] . They have been amazingly successful in waging a media campaign to discredit Assange, and in turning media attention away from the data that Wikileaks has leaked, and onto unproven allegations of:

  • Rape
  • Personality issues (abuse of power, sexism, attitute towards women etc.)
  • Financial fraud
  • Anti-U.S. government bias
  • Endangering the lives of troops
  • Endangering the lives of collaborators and their families

Assange obviously has issues with U.S. foreign policy, but so do many people, including many Americans. Apart from that, nothing in the list has been proven, and yet - based entirely on these "rumours" - the media has mostly been manipulated into discussing Assange and his personal life and supposed "recklessness", rather than the leaked data.

The assault on Assange has been slow but relentless. He has lost support in several jurisdictions (Iceland, Sweden), and he is about to become an international fugitive from justice - Sweden has requested that Interpol issue a warrant for his arrest [guardian.co.uk] . This is for a man who was informed, in writing, by the prosecutor that there was no warrant for his arrest, and that he was free to leave the country. The Australian government has signalled that it would cooperate with a U.S. prosecution of Assange. His British visa expires next year and is unlikely to be renewed. There are certainly clandestine operations against Wikileaks: Assange has had laptops stolen from his checked luggage on international flights, and Wikileaks operatives in other countries have been put under surveillance.

Dealing with Assange was not enough - he had to be discredited, so that people would no longer support him, his organisation, or the principles of leaking data to the world. The opponents of Wikileaks had to use him as an example of what would happen to anybody else who was tempted to step up and begin releasing information that they did not want to become available. They are well aware that in this age of 24-hour media, globalisation, and digital archiving, there is a huge potential for all kinds of inconvenient documents to be leaked, and they need to attack the entire philosophy, rather than just one man.

Re:Not true (3, Insightful)

madprof (4723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292360)

While I can't take away from your excellent post, you actually mis-read the post you were replying to, and the person was simply saying that people ignored Wikileaks in the beginning, and that they got better at releasing data in such a way as to make people pay attention. You cite some of the press organisations who were given exclusive access to the data.

Re:No one actually checks the data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294084)

Then the glowbull warming religious fanatics should release ALL of their data.

News For Nerds Please (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291172)

In what way is this story related to slashdot's stated purpose of news for nerds?

Re:News For Nerds Please (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291212)

Data does not process or analyse themselves! And the UK isn't India, either. When we need some data sifting done, we hire a small number of skilled individuals to write some queries and feed them to a computer, rather than hiring hundreds of Indians to do the work manually.

So this is very relevant to the Slashdot community, since many of us here are data professionals who will be able to perform such analysis ourselves.

Re:News For Nerds Please (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291902)

Data does not process or analyse themselves!

But it does randomly switch from singular to plural in mid-sentence, or so they would appears to.

Re:News For Nerds Please (2, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292832)

Actually, they switched from plural to singular and back again. Data is the plural form, the singular is datum.

Re:News For Nerds Please (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304682)

But no-one uses the word "datum" in real life. We say "the data does not process or analyse itself" not "the data do not process or analyse themselves" in (UK) English.

Re:News For Nerds Please (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 3 years ago | (#34309028)

These days "data" is usually used as an uncountable, which doesn't have a singular or plural. You have to add measuring terms, e.g. kilobytes of data, or on its own it means data in general (which being an uncountable, uses the singular).

So all of these would be technically correct:
A datum does not process or analyse itself. (generic singular)
Data do not process or analyse themselves. (generic plural)
Data does not process or analyse itself. (uncountable)

The original quote is still wrong though.

Re:News For Nerds Please (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291220)

Pfft, you might want to spend your saturday afternoon playing sports for all I know, but I'm going to be swimming in free data, woohoo!

Re:News For Nerds Please (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291226)

Online publication of data. It has 2 words that's associated with nerds; online and data. Therefore /. worthy.

Re:News For Nerds Please (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304652)

It represents an interesting technical problem in collating and analysing large amounts of data.

Just because it's not fucking Google collecting advertising information doesn't mean it's not interesting.

Yes but (1)

He who knows (1376995) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291200)

they havent released any receipts to show proof of what the money was spent on rather than simply the projects that got the money. Most of the money wasted will be on lots of small cost projects that are under £25,000 so will not get published.

Re:Yes but (1)

Simmeh (1320813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292958)

Plenty of information is already available, for instance just this week I checked my MP's phone bill. Bitch spent £120!

Re:Yes but (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304704)

Plenty of information is already available, for instance just this week I checked my MP's phone bill. Bitch spent £120!

A month? a year? how much was personal? is her constituency far from her home? what is the average phone bill for MP's? did it include online usage? etc.

It's hard just to pluck out a number and comment on it out of context.

Re:Yes but (1)

Simmeh (1320813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34314874)

Monthly, she lives close to her constituency. Since the numbers called are redacted I can only assume shes been ringing plenty of excluded-minutes numbers.

Already being examined (5, Informative)

lsproc (943512) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291238)

There are already sites picking through it (such as http://www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/ [wheredoesmymoneygo.org] and quite a few surprising entries have already cropped up, such as the massive amount Capita got, but you actually have to know what you want to look for if your going to find anything meaningful.

Spot the waste (0)

ozbird (127571) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291290)

People are being encouraged to pick through the enormous quantity of online information to spot waste and hold ministers to account.

That's easy: posting enormous quantities of data online and expecting members of the public to audit it is a massive waste of time and resources.

Re:Spot the waste (2, Insightful)

Simmeh (1320813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292980)

Public? How about the shadow cabinet? I imagine the ousted party is very interested in this, and aptly qualified to understand it as they had been spending the money for the past 13 years.

The best way to keep sheep in line..... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291316)

is to make them think they're winning.

Always question.

Re:The best way to keep sheep in line..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291684)

is to make them think they're winning.

Always question.

You are of course correct, but in my opinion if you ever want to achieve personal happiness you have to let go of the cynicism sometime. Not everything that happens in government is due to a secret nefarious motive or personal greed. I know it's certainly popular to think that, but if you apply any rational thinking to it you soon realise that politicians are the same as the rest of us - we're only human. Some of them are just self interested arseholes who only got into politics for the power and the status, but many of them genuinely want to improve the state of their country.

In this particular case, personally, I think it comes from the right place. The fact is they are not going to get better poll ratings because of this - the majority of voters in the UK are completely disinterested when offered such transparency. It's not a 'popular' move but it won't be unpopular either and it is very unlikely to win them significant amounts of support. In my opinion the reasons behind this were similar to Obama's transparency efforts - ideological.

surely that's gonna end all corruption ... (1)

Lazy Jones (8403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291480)

So corrupt officials who divert public funds to their friends/partners have to split those transactions up into sub-£25k chunks? That's almost as funny as the court opening Austria's "Mr. presumably innocent"'s bank accounts but only those in Austria [diepresse.com] while anyone with money and half a brain has accounts in Switzerland, Liechtenstein etc. ... (German, sorry) ;-)

Where is the data now? (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291642)

"In a move sure to have transparency activists salivating, the UK government has some 195,000 lines of data detailing its financial outgoings."

Has what? I hope they didn't accidentally it!

Re:Where is the data now? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291658)

Has what? I hope they didn't accidentally it!

They accidentally a whole USB stick of it on a bus.

One possible abuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34291806)

$50,000 spent on "Upper Lip Stiffening Gel" seems a bit excessive.

National Security (1)

digitalPhant0m (1424687) | more than 3 years ago | (#34291922)

I'm sure that here in the U.S., part of the strategy for not exposing such data, is for national security reasons.

Oh, I know what you're thinking, I'm going to argue the point the the U.S. government has our best interest at heart by trying to protect some national secrets or 'skunk works' projects. Quite the contrary.

I can almost guarantee that we've spent far more than that in a 5-6 month period.

If the people actually knew where their hard earned money is going, and the thing's it's funding (i.e., lining pockets) there is the potential of a National Security risk, from within. You're going to piss off allot of people, and either insinuate a riot or risk your job as a money grubbing pocket liner!

By keeping us in the dark, happy and ignorant, they can keep on misappropriating funds and do whatever-the-hell they want.

You know what, I'm probably wrong. I'm assuming the average American is like myself and actually cares where their money goes and what their government is doing TO them, rather than FOR them.

Gaming this system (3, Interesting)

amck (34780) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292478)

The danger to look out for is how regulations become gamed.

In this case, middle-level managers wanting to hide something will do so by outsourcing the work, rather than doing it 'in-house' in a public body.
Then the details can be labelled "commercially sensitive", and hidden from Freedom of Information requests.

Similar issues were seen in anti-drug operations in Cuba: once US forces started being shot at, the work was farmed out to MNCs - Multinational
Military Corporations, like Blackwater, typically staffed with ex- US special forces, operating from US bases. But the operations were commercial,
and any deaths secret. Unpopular operations became secret again, hidden from FOI requests.

For a political party that wants to see as much as possible privatised, this forces more work into the private sector, even when it could be done
easier and cheaper in the public sector. Beware of such tactics.

Re:Gaming this system (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293344)

Similar issues were seen in anti-drug operations in Cuba: once US forces started being shot at, the work was farmed out to MNCs - Multinational Military Corporations, like Blackwater, typically staffed with ex- US special forces, operating from US bases. But the operations were commercial, and any deaths secret. Unpopular operations became secret again, hidden from FOI requests.

There's no US anti-drug operations in Cuba. The government is hostile to the US and wouldn't permit such things.

Re:Gaming this system (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34304726)

I think GP probably meant Columbia, but maybe it was Iraq or Bermuda. Somewhere foreign, anyway.

Wow slashdot, what happened? (4, Insightful)

ADRA (37398) | more than 3 years ago | (#34292706)

I'd think the disproportionately large libertarian minded audience in here would have immediately gravitated toward this. I mean when I took my first accounting course, one of the first things that they said was that hell would freeze over before governments start to release their balance sheets. If the data is even closely detailed, we are looking at what I'd hope to be a positive step in how governments manage themselves with the populace.

I never thought that so many of you here would be afraid or ultimately jaded about transparency and openness. *shudder* Maybe Steve Jobs has done a better job on you than I thought possible. *making plans to move into the woods and live off twigs and berries*

Re:Wow slashdot, what happened? (3, Insightful)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293404)

It doesn't take a libertarian to like the idea of transparent and accountable government. In fact, it's even more of an issue for us lefties - if you give more money and power to the government, there's stronger need to keep it in check to make sure the money is not squandered and the power is not abused. Letting the public (i.e. taxpayers; those whose money it is in the first place!) audit the expenses is a very appropriate way to do just that.

Re:Wow slashdot, what happened? (2, Interesting)

Grapplebeam (1892878) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293500)

Libertarians don't want transparent and accountable government. They want NO government.
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