openDemocracyUK

Death-watch beetles

Stuart Weir
2 January 2010

Perhaps I am unreasonably angry and disturbed on learning that academy schools are not open to public scrutiny through the freedom of information law. After all, it is a lapse that hardly measures up to the enormities and misdemeanours of recent executive activity. Academies are not going to bomb and invade other state schools and murder their teachers and pupils, nor will their staff torture their own pupils, not physically anyway. There are laws against such actions.

Yet it is a symptomatic reminder that the fabled 'flexibility' of our governing arrangements - that is, the wide expanse of executive discretion - makes a mockery of principle and due process. One of the great strengths of the new FOI regime - which was much trumpeted at the time of its introduction - was its comprehensive nature. Though with undesirable exceptions, freedom of information was spread right across the public domain. And rightly so - the right of access to public information is a significant part of freedom of expression. It is all to easy for ministers and officials to disregard such considerations and to exempt academies from scrutiny and possibly to plunge other areas of public activity into the dark - to nibble away, like death-watch beetles, within the old and new structures of democracy and constitutionality until they collapse entirely.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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