Friday, 9 April 2010

The Truth, not the Whole Truth, and nothing but the Redacted Truth

It is easy to see that the state must be a constant danger, or (as I have ventured to call it) an evil, though a necessary one. For if the state is to fulfil its function, it must have more power at any rate than any single private citizen or public corporation; and although we might design institutions to minimize the danger that these powers will be misused, we can never eliminate the danger completely. On the contrary, it seems that most men will always have to pay for the protection of the state, not only in the form of taxes but even in the form of humiliation suffered, for example, at the hands of bullying officials. (Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations)

I was reading these lines in Popper, just before I read Deputy Carolyn Labey's account of the police raid on the home she shared with Stuart Syvret, and considering the price she had to pay, which is really too high for a civilised society.

As she has posted her account as a comment on Syvret's blog, and hence in the public domain, there are no Data Protection issues, so I quote it in full. She was on holiday at the time when Senator Syvret was arrested - when he was outside the house they shared - in a dawn raid by police, during which time they entered - without a search warrant - and ransacked the house for materials relating to a breach of Data Protection by him. This is her account of what happened:

It is one year ago to the day since my home was raided. News eventually got to me, that my mother was in a terrible state shock. She being the only family member left on the premises as 10 police officers stormed my home. They had stopped her going in certain rooms, as she questioned what they were doing in my children's bedrooms. They were looking for a file.

Yet they started the search - without a search warrant and without a third party present - in my childrens bedrooms. Then the bathrooms, they moved creams, shampoos, went through all my bedroom drawers, downstairs; through books, family photographs, the kitchen, the rubbish bag, tipped up the sofas and then bagged up and took away my personal computer. (To date they haven't even told me my pc was taken off the premises, and to date, I have not switched it on for fear of what might have been done with it).

I remind readers, they were looking for a file. Four hours later, after being found having their lunch inside one of the old sheds, they moved to another building where the office is located. And obviously where they knew all along, the office was located. Taking photographs as they went of my son's moped number plate, the outbuilding interior, photo's of personal belongings and private phone numbers on wall sockets, no doubt for future use. In the office they went through my constituency work thus breaching Data Protection Laws.

Let me run that by you again. The States of Jersey Police were ransacking my home and then office because a file that had been exposed had apparently breached the Data Protection Laws. Rather than ask the person they had arrested and taken off the property to locate the file, they chose to breach the Data Protection in trying to locate it themselves. As well as my constituency work, a very fat file box of mine on the subject of 'Re-zoning land' was tipped out and gone through. This particular file of mine contains material surrounding, what most jurisdictions would class as corruption, in the recent re-zoning of land for housing. All of which was reported to Inspector David Minty, who after speaking to one of my witnesses for 10 minutes decided there was not enough evidence. I spoke to the witness for 3 and a half hours. What goes on in our Island, basically prices first time buyer homes at £450,000 each, instead of £300,000. Another witness has since come forward with information about certain politicians and others that would make your hair stand on end. I wasn't even looking for evidence - I just made a speech in the States Assembly.

Inspector Minty, was coincidentally in charge of the raid on my home. Two days later Inspector Minty was taken off the case and another serving Inspector appointed. On my return from holiday, I made a 60 point complaint to the Police Complaints Authority - who I have not heard a word from, and to the Police. The Acting Chief of Police - who was ultimately in charge of the raid, drew up the Terms of Reference for Warwickshire Police to investigate. Needless to say the terms were extremely narrow. The Report was concluded on 30th September, 2009, and to date I have been refused a copy. I was kindly given a redacted version - redacted by the States of Jersey Police lawyer's, which needless to say, is not worth the paper it is written on.

I don't think there has been a day in the past year, where I am not repulsed and angered by what they did to me, my family and my family home. I am still pursuing getting my hands on a copy of the full report about my complaint. I am pursuing the Data Protection issues against me and my constituents and I am pursuing the alleged corruption complaints, albeit without the assistance of the Police. In our free civilised society.

Note that - after what amounted to something very much like legalised burglary - she was given a "redacted" version of a report, even after the terms of that report were drawn up by the Acting Chief of Police - which is surely a conflict of interest, if ever there was one.

Redaction is the new game. We have seen this with the UK members of Parliament and their expenses claims, which eventually saw publication, in a form so severely edited that it was laughable. It made matters even worse, because the Telegraph was cheerfully publishing the non-redacted version, which allowed comparisons to be made, and exposed the slippery nature of the editing process.

Now we have the Wiltshire report on the way, and it is not clear if that too will suffer redaction. Why is it so important that it is released in as complete a form as possible? Because if only a few individuals decide, what they decide may well distort matters. C.S. Lewis, writing about historical documents, and why narratives are preserved, considers how different judgements can effect what is preserved, and visible, and what has been lost. But his remarks apply equally to modern day, because several people editing a report have a considerably narrower viewpoint that many; they certainly do not have - however honest they may be - a God-given objective viewpoint of what is important:

Their standards do not agree with one another nor with ours. They often tell us what we do not greatly want to know and omit what we think essential. It is often easy to see why. Their standard of importance can be explained by their historical situation. So, no doubt, can ours. Standards of historical importance are themselves embedded in history. But then, by what standard can we judge whether the 'important' in some high-flying Hegelian sense has survived?

Lewis himself supplies a good example of this, in which removal of key passages can seriously distort the meaning:

Let us assume a mutilated MS, in which only a minority of passages are legible. The parts we can still read might be tolerable evidence for those features which are likely to be constant and evenly distributed over the whole; for example, spelling or handwriting...But there is nothing in the world to prevent the legible line (at the bottom of a page)

Frimian was the noblest of the brothers ten

being followed by this missing one:

As men believed; so false are the beliefs of men

Now I'm not saying that such gross distortion would take place with editing the Wiltshire report for publication. But there are all kinds of subtle factors which may come into play.

A qualification may not be thought necessary about a witness statement, and its removal may mean the statement has an authority beyond its scope. The sources for some "facts" may be omitted, and yet unless we can examine what those sources are, we have only to take on trust that they are reliable, which they may not be. Expert testimony may be thought weak, and omitted, but that is a judgement by the editor, not necessarily shared by everyone. Some of the report may be considered prejudicial to officials, but its omission may give a completely different perspective of the political ferment of the time. What might be considered potentially libellous may rest on the decision of a few individuals, who may have let their own prejudices effect their judgement, however much they told themselves consciously that it would not.

So even the fairest and most honest redaction of Wiltshire will be prone to all kinds of problems. And that is the best case scenario, which does not allow conspiracy or cover-up, to enter the equation.

There may be an added factor of avoiding exposure of officials behaviour where they have made mistakes or have dealt with Graham Power in an underhand manner. For this, I leave the reader with the following extract from "The Skeleton in the Cupboard", an episode of "Yes Minister", which shows how easy it is to fabricate excuses to "lose" information. For correspondence lost in the floods, you might substitute "hand written minutes shredded by accident" for the local situation!

Sir Humphrey: "This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still-active files, some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967..."
Hacker: Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?
Sir Humphrey:  No, a marvellous winter. We lost no end of embarrassing files.
Sir Humphrey: "...records lost in the move to London, or when the War Office joined the Ministry of Defence, and the withdrawal of papers that could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause
embarrassment to friendly governments."
Hacker: Well, that's pretty comprehensive. How many does that normally leave for them to look at? How many does it actually leave? About a hundred? Fifty? Ten? Five? Four? Three? Two? One? Zero?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, Minister.

Unlike "Yes Minister", there will be documents to hand at some point, but look at the excuses, especially "give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence" and "except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still-active files". I venture to suggest that any edited Wiltshire will probably, if required, justify itself on those grounds.

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