How the UK Prime Minister's office gets around Freedom of Information requests

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In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.


It’s a hard problem no matter how you slice it.

My employer has a fully developed record retention policy (where emails and such are considered records just like any other) - some categories of documents must be retained one year, three years, seven years, the duration of the project plus five years, three years after the employee leaves the organization, the life of the patient plus two years, etc., and all must be securely disposed of (paper shredded, disks wiped or incinerated, etc.) once their retention period is over.

It’s a lot of work but at least feasible when records are in specialized systems (medical record systems, financial software systems and whatnot). But email has everything lumped together and under the control of each individual person. If they auto-deleted messages, they’d delete a ton of stuff that they were supposed to retain and risk making the organization dysfunctional. In fact they don’t, which means they retain a ton of stuff that was supposed to have been disposed of years ago and risk breaching someone’s privacy by having material they shouldn’t.

You can’t win for losing this one.


The shreds on the picture are from a document fed to the shredder in the exactly wrong way. Aren’t they supposed to be cut perpendicular to the lines so the lines aren’t preserved (and, if possible, cross-cut)?

The more this sort of willful disobedience happens in democracies (e.g. Hillary/State, Dubbya/POTUS), the less and less I happen to believe the politicos, especially as they go on and on about the rule of law, democracy, openness, etc., while simultaneously CYA’ing their communication past. Either they believe in those things and should function accordingly, or they should abandon those talking points entirely.
Perhaps the advent of massive electronic storage capacity combined with internet communication technologies is showing that, as humans, we’re not nearly as good as we’d like all the other humans to believe?

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I’m in the medical field too, and we are struggling with the same problem.

It’s fairly easy to deal with Official Documents like contracts, patient charts, EKG strips, etc.

But email…well, email is the de facto filing system for almost everything else. As clerical staff retired, they were not replaced, and everyone but the top execs basically got used to doing all their communications via e-mail and attachments thereto.

So email is now, for better or worse, the institutional memory of the organization, and people react to calls for an email purge (for either data management or legal reasons) with (1) howls of rage or (2) quiet damage control (I’ve tutored at least a dozen people in the art of using .pst files this year).

Doesn’t all that information belong to the public?

Who are they to destroy it?

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