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Government Communications It's funny.  Laugh. Privacy United Kingdom Your Rights Online

MP Wants Official Email Address Kept Private 179

Posted by Soulskill
from the la-la-la-i-can't-hear-you dept.
nk497 writes "An MP in the UK has had his official email address removed from the parliamentary website, because he's tired of getting 'nuisance' emails via online campaign websites. MP Dominic Raab's parliamentary.uk email is currently not listed on the House of Commons' website following a spat with online campaigners 38 Degrees. 'Just processing the emails from your website absorbs a disproportionate amount of time and effort, which we may wish to spend on higher priorities, such as helping constituents in real need or other local or Parliamentary business,' he said, threatening to report the group to the government's data and privacy watchdog if they didn't remove the details from their own website. 38 Degrees says Raab gave them his personal email address during the election: 'it's only since he became a member of parliament with a taxpayer funded email address that he's now said he doesn't want to hear from people,' unless they're willing to shell out for a stamp to write him a letter. The lobby group said Raab likely averaged fewer than two emails from their site each day."
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MP Wants Official Email Address Kept Private

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  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @12:51AM (#33200678)
    a public official doesn't want to be contacted by the public? No one likes to hear the peasants out. Where's the story here?
  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @12:52AM (#33200684)

    I always had the idea that politicians do not read the mails that are sent to them - the higher up the chain the less likely. I would expect them to have a bunch of aides who actually go through those mails, categorise them, and regularly hand summaries to the politician, or forward really important ones directly to his actual private e-mail.

    A national politician reading all mails sent by constituents by himself is doing something wrong imho. He has better things to do than spending all day reading mails, as I expect that he will get lots of mails.

  • by tsm_sf (545316) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:01AM (#33200744) Journal
    Whining about "shelling out" for sending a letter had me rolling my eyes. How important can a note be if the sender doesn't think it's worth a quarter to send it.
  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:12AM (#33200804) Homepage
    If I got two unsolicited emails a day from the same sender, day after day, it would really get on my nerves. Posts above say "boo hoo he gets two emails a day" when in fact it is from a single site. No sympathy for his "God damn ordinary people" attitude but still, how many times have you been unable to stop an email sender who doesn't care about your opinion? Spam filter would be the solution that seems to be lacking, but then the negative story would be "politician bins a pressure group's informative daily emails".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:17AM (#33200830)

    A national politician reading all mails sent by constituents by himself is doing something wrong imho. He has better things to do than spending all day reading mails...

    Oh, really? Name two.

  • Junk Mail (Score:2, Insightful)

    by afabbro (33948) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:23AM (#33200850) Homepage

    The group provides a service by which people can automatically email their MP on certain issues

    A friend who worked in a U.S. congressman's office said that these sorts of "constituent contacts" are a complete waste of time. Ditto for "send this postcard to your lawmaker", form letters, online petitions (of the "we have a voice!" type, not the legal process type), etc. Any kind of preprinted form contact (whether electronic or written) is generally ignored because the lobbying groups who generate them can do so at will. e.g., Right to Life or NARAL can at any time run a campaign and get thousands of postcards or form emails sent to the congressman. The lower the barrier to send (with email form letters being the lowest), the more likely to end up being completely ignored. These types of contacts are also very easy to fake.

    On the other hand, a personally written letter or phone call is given whatever miniscule attention the congressman's office usually gives to constituent contacts...i.e., very little unless you are a major contributor, but at least it's not automatically routed to trash.

  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:42AM (#33200942) Journal

    To put this in a bit of context:

    I have at times worked in a central policy department in the UK civil service. Dealing with correspondence from MPs to our Minister, usually passing along letters or concerns from the MP's constituent, is a large part of the work of many junior (and mid-level) officials. In my most recent post during a Parliamentary term, the relatively small team I managed would usually have in the region of 20 such letters needing replies, with a week to turn each one around (and our policy area isn't even a particularly high profile one). For MPs, dealing with correspondence is a pretty big part of their job; representing their constituent's concerns in Parliament is what they are there to do, and is one of the ways they can show they are "in touch" with their constituency. The degree to which the MP chooses to get involved in the issue varies; sometimes the constituent's letter (or e-mail) is passed along with little more than "can I have some information so I can respond", but in other cases, the MP might request a meeting with one of the Department's ministers to discuss the issue further, or if he feels he is not getting a satisfactory answer, might raise the issue on the floor of the House of Commons. While officials draft the responses in these cases, Ministers always check them before they are issued and sometimes make edits, or ask officials to take follow-up action.

    In any event, writing to your MP is the most effective recourse for a UK citizen who has a problem with the political establishment and most MPs take their duty seriously. Obviously, you are more likely to get positive engagement from your MP if you are writing about a tangible issue that wouldn't otherwise have come to light (eg. your small business is having problems with the planning system, or you believe your employer is violating health and safety law but have been ignored, or something of that ilk) than about one of the large and controversial topics (such as the Iraq war, or the bank bailouts) and MPs are always going to be less likely to get involved in a case that is clearly motivated by an ideology they don't share. But the fact remains that writing to your MP is far more effective than writing directly to a Minister (or the Prime Minister), as the latter will usually just yield a response drafted by an official that has never been near a Minister.

    The problem is that in recent years, the system has been somewhat under siege by various pressure groups. These groups do direct, regular and repetitive mail-shots to MPs, with many of them even providing tools to make it easy for users of their website to join in on the action simply by filling in a form. They operate on the principle of "if we say something often and loud enough, then MPs will conclude we are important or in the majority". In reality, all they tend to do is gunk up the system with spam, as MPs struggle to identify the letters and e-mails from their own constituents, asking for help with issues where the MP might actually be of some use.

    The MP in this case was wrong to have his official e-mail address taken off the Parliamentary website. That's where I'd expect that many of his constituents would start looking for his details to contact him. However, the greater fault here lies with the self-righteous pressure groups who see nothing wrong with trampling over the system by substituting volume for reasoned argument and resorting to the tactics of the spammer.

  • by bigstrat2003 (1058574) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:43AM (#33200952)
    I don't know. While it may be a hell of a lot of work, I think they also owe it to the people to be contactable, so the people can express their wishes. The only person I would really exempt is someone like the president of a country, where they represent every single person in the country (which can be an impossibly large number). However, pretty much anyone else should be making the effort, as their number of constituents will be more manageable.
  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:45AM (#33200962) Homepage Journal

    I foresee a stark future for the MP. One where his mailbox is filled to overflowing daily with links to wikipedia's page on the Streisand Effect.

  • by iserlohn (49556) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @02:21AM (#33201066) Homepage

    And your point is? Email from these pressure groups are in no way invalid if they are from his constituents. Just because a Tory politician doesn't agree with the stance taken by pressure groups such as 38 degrees, doesn't give him the right to withdraw a valuable communications channel to his constituents. You can be sure that if those emails are in support of the MPs pet project, he would be openly inviting more email correspondence.

  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @02:34AM (#33201130)
    Lobbying just isnt lobbying unless there are huge sums of money being tossed around. Am I right?
  • by eyrieowl (881195) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @02:56AM (#33201186)

    Hear, hear! The MP is not elected solely to represent the constituents who are not intimidated by trying to craft reasoned arguments that might sway an MP. They're also elected to represent the views of their many constituents who, on a given issue, may find that an interest group has articulated their position better than they themselves could, as well as those constituents whose opinion on some issues may be as concise as "yay" or "nay". If the MP isn't providing a better way for those constituents to bring those views to the MP's attention, the MP bears the blame for alternate methods of communication with them which spring up.

    An enlightened MP would realize that there is an opportunity to create a system which furthers the needs of democracy. A system that works for and with the constituents as well as managing the "pressure groups". I think that if the MPs had a website similar to those used by the "pressure groups", one where citizens and/or pressure groups could add issues they are concerned about on their own, and one where individual citizens could pick the statements they agree with, enter their contact info, and be added to a simple tally for their MP, that much of the "spam" could be eliminated. If citizens wanted to add comments in their own words when agreeing with a position statement, those comments would be made available to their MP; otherwise, they would just be added to the tally for the position statement. Special interests could be encouraged to post their own position statements to the site and direct their partisans to go "agree" with it, they'd still be able to make known to MPs that "lots of us feel strongly about this position". Added bonus for them--they may be able to reduce their IT spend, in the basic case being able to make do with a very simple site that just links to the issues they are supporting on the Parliamentary issue site.

    Anyhow, that's what I think an enlightened MP would do. Which Mr. Raab appears not to be.

  • by iserlohn (49556) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:53AM (#33201392) Homepage

    And your point is? Democracy isn't cheap. There will always be low value communications, but and most people agree that that is a valid (but maybe not the most preferable) method of voicing support or disapproval of an issue to your MP. The issue here is that the MP stopped publishing his email so his other constituents would lose email access to their MP.

    The previous reply hits the nail on the head. What MPs should be doing is to find ways of managing this, either by managing email in a much better fashion, or to divert such requests to a site in which meaningful data can be gathered. He or she can even arrange a short question session to address the concerns of all these people at once so that individual responses to form letters can be avoided.

  • Re:I Disagree. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by samjam (256347) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:59AM (#33201424) Homepage Journal

    I disagree - "simply filling out a form and spamming" is not simple, nor is it spamming any more than "simply writing a letter and spamming" is simple or spamming.

    Looking at your argument, there is an arms race, and you have to ask why voters are having to do this to be noticed? Clue: look at the response by the MP now he is noticing them as a group that had to coordinate - yes, before he could ignore them singly, now he chooses to ignore them in bulk.

  • by nospam007 (722110) * on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @05:04AM (#33201642)

    "the views of their many constituents who, on a given issue, may find that an interest group has articulated their position better than they themselves could, ..."

    You mean the goat has already told them how to work the garden?

    gun related - ask only NRA
    farm subsidy - ask only Farmer's Association ...

    It's _because_ those groups swaying/paying off your man that people want to reach their representatives to tell them they will raise hell for any next vote if he misrepresents them.

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @05:38AM (#33201830)

    And your point is? Email from these pressure groups are in no way invalid if they are from his constituents. Just because a Tory politician doesn't agree with the stance taken by pressure groups such as 38 degrees, doesn't give him the right to withdraw a valuable communications channel to his constituents. You can be sure that if those emails are in support of the MPs pet project, he would be openly inviting more email correspondence.

    Let me put this in perspective by giving you an easier to visualize methaphor:
    - Imagine that an MP sets up an open session with his constituents, maybe in a local town hall which takes 200 people.
    - His intention is to get questions from members of the public and answer the as best as he can, maybe picking up some of the cases he hears about and checking int them further.
    - During the whole session, there is a group of 10 people which came in together and spend the whole time shouting out loud how they want something specific done, drowning everybody else during the whole session and pretty much not letting anybody else be heard.

    Those 10 people represent only 5% of everybody in that hall and (due to self-selection, since they gathered and came together on purpose) represent a much smaller proportion of the overall voters in the constituency.

    This is basically what some "pressure groups" do, only they do it via e-mail. While they do deserve a voice, they do not deserve to be heard above and over other constituents.

    In my example above, if the 10 people disturbing the open session were not forcefully thrown out (probably by the other constituents that also came in to voice their problems), then the MP would simply stop it after a while. If this kept happening, he would never do one of those open sessions again.

    That said, in the e-mail case the MP's solution for this should not have been to remove his e-mail address from the site. Instead he should set up a blacklist of abusers of the system (preferably automatic) which would simply send those e-mails to an alternative low priority queue (such as a different e-mail address) which would only be looked at when the normal queue was empty.

    If he really wanted to be fair, people would be removed from the blacklist after not abusing the system for a while.

    This would neatly turn e-mail spamming into a self-defeating technique if done frequently.

  • by Malc (1751) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @05:57AM (#33201978)

    It doesn't really matter whether these groups are valid or not. Their complaint that the loss of the recent addition of email contact is ridiculous. If they care about their cause, then why does it matter that it costs money? Stationary and stamps cost very little, unless they're in the business of bulking mailing or spamming, in which it's probably better all around that they can't use email for contact.

    I should point out that in Canada a stamp isn't required to contact one's MP. If it's such a big deal to this group, then perhaps they should lobby for a similar policy in the UK.

  • by awjr (1248008) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @06:19AM (#33202182)

    If a pressure group has a specific issue to address, rather than ask their members to spam their MPs, they should collect signatories and then submit one email to the MPs whose constituants have signed up. The email should also list the set of MPs to whom the email has been sent. It should also provide a respone email address which will distribute the response to the sigantories. If really clever, then the MPs in question come up with a reasoned response each or one official one for each party.

    Instead we have this pressure group sending out 700 emails to each of the 600 odd MPs who then have to create an individual response and most need to respond in writing. The cost is enormous.

    I can understand why this MP is asking his constituants to write to him. It takes effort. You really have to care about the issue. Sending off an email is easy. Writing a letter and putting in the post shows you actually care.

  • by mister_dave (1613441) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @07:06AM (#33202554)

    Please don't! The taxpayers would have to pay that bill.

  • by SteveFoerster (136027) <steve AT stevefoerster DOT com> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @07:26AM (#33202718) Homepage

    Only on Slashdot would an explanation of how snail mail works be modded informative. :-)

  • by VJ42 (860241) * on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @08:52AM (#33203634)

    Yes - whilst I tend to agree with the various campaigns that 38 degrees has been doing, I tend to not be happy at sites that encourage people to send copy-and-paste letters.

    I understand where you're coming from, but once he's recognised it as as a cut and paste email, he should be just reply with a cut and paste answer; not being stupid enough to try and hide his email address from his constituents.

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