Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

International man/woman of mystery: the silent, uncommunicative type, apparently

The tale of the International Man/Woman of Mystery – who “approved” the Ordnance Survey’s international comparisons study (which personally I thought was woeful) – just gets more and more incredible, or less and less credible.

Two more FOI responses came back today. You’ll recall that we previously established that the IM/WOM works, or has worked, for a foreign mapping organisation, and is a foreign national.

So we asked: Please could you provide the following information, none of which identifies the person:

1) which NMA employed or employs them, and is the employment ongoing?

2) if the employment is no longer ongoing, when did it end?

3) Is the person male or female?

To which the response came back:

I can confirm that Ordnance Survey does hold this information, however I regret to inform you that your request falls within the Personal information exemption under section 40 (2) (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). We believe this exemption applies because in our reasonable opinion the provision of the information requested would prejudice the anonymity of the individual and would serve to substantively assist in identifying them and remove their anonymity. As has been pointed out previously the individual does not wish their identity to be disclosed, therefore we will not be releasing this information to you. With regard to this matter, we will also take the same approach with any further requests that, in our opinion, prejudice the anonymity of, or substantively assist in identifying the individual concerned.

Possibly to be expected, but any one of the answers would arguably not have identified the person, and have been useful.

And so we tried a different tack. There must have been some discussion with this person setting up their examination of the study, right? So we asked for internal emails and other communication with them. (It would be redacted, of course…)

Back comes the reply:

Thank you for your email dated 5 August 2009 requesting: copies of all OS emails, letters and notes from any telephone conversations to or from the internationally recognised expert that were made in relation to their review of this study (for example approaching them to carry out the review, sending them the review, receiving their comments on the review).

I regret to inform you that Ordnance Survey is unable to help you with your enquiry as we do not hold this information. A copy of the report was provided to the person concerned and engagement on this matter was conducted orally with no permanent record made of these conversations. [Emphasis added – CA]

So basically they called a Good Friend up and asked them to cast an eye over it. No emails to or from? No phone conversations or letters? No written or emailed comments?

Is it just me, or is that incredible for a study that’s being prepared for the minister in order to consider the best method of funding the national mapping agency of Great Britain?

There are some other areas that we can probe. But this is just amazing. A study best described as sloppy, and a review that can only be described as secretive. And this is the new model for Ordnance Survey?

    The following posts may be related...(the database guesses):