Instant history, does FOI help?

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
2 June 2010

Mick Fealty at Slugger O'Toole picked up an exchange I had yesterday with the historion Anthony Beevor on Eddie Mair's BBC's PM show. Mick has published a short transcript of the two exchanges. It was started by a Guardian report from Hay by Charlotte Higgins. Part of the argument for Mick is that bloggers should learn some of the historian's discipline. I'm all for that. I feel my second answer blathered a bit as I really didn't think Beevor's case was serious (the idea that the digital record is easier to purge than a paper one is absurd; that the histrical record was just shut away and preserved is ridiculous).

I looked for something positive and agreed with him about teaching the writing of essays. I guess this led to my post about long live history! I'm against the Beevor idea that there is just one narrative record and this is the history waiting to be told if only the historian can get to the record. The Guardian article reports that Beevor doesn't think a reliable history of the Iraq war is possible because of all the covering up that has gone on. Really? Well, here are two recorded episodes about its planning.

1. How it started: This is what President Bush told three US Senators who were being briefed by Condi Rice in the White House in March 2002, a year before the invasion: "Fuck Saddam, I'm taking him out". 

2. The reason given to the public: Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair,  "for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction... ”

Instant, yes. Documented as a historian might wish, yes.

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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