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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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  • Bayes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ls671 (1122017) * on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:42AM (#33200636) Homepage

    Maybe he would be better off using some type of Bayesian classifier similar to the one SpamAssassin uses.

    http://linux.die.net/man/1/sa-learn [die.net]

    It should work as well at classifying 'nuisance' emails as it does for classifying plain Spam as long as one trains it accordingly. Then, check the 'nuisance' emails at a lowest priority. He could also have his email go through several Bayesian filters, one trained to identify 'nuisance' emails and one trained to identify plain Spam. All email types could be handled differently.

    In my experience, it's already too late to remove your email address from a web site when already too many people know it so it is not that efficient. Anyways, it seems like this guy might need some technical advise ;-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes'_theorem [wikipedia.org]

    http://spamassassin.apache.org/ [apache.org]

  • Re:Bayes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:53AM (#33200692) Homepage

    It's about 700 e-mails a year from a single website; I think a simple domain name filter would suffice and still allow other citizens to send e-mail.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @02:38AM (#33200924)

    If I got two unsolicited emails a day from the same sender, day after day, it would really get on my nerves.

    Maybe this is why you aren't getting elected? If you are not an MP, your "pissed-off of same person writing you twice a day" reaction is not relevant for the issue at hand, as legitimate as it is for the case of a private person and as much as I empathise with you (I really do, but this is also irrelevant)

    For an MP (public person), the situation cannot be the same: I'm quite afraid that supporting the nuisance of receiving mails from a pressure group really does come with the position of MP. After all, a MP is supposed to represent the interest of the people that elected him or his party, I consider deliberately ignoring the email as a mission failure.

  • Completely agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:40AM (#33201140)
    Any MP will tell you one well written letter in an envelope with a stamp is worth uncounted numbers of emails, because someone has bothered to communicate, and where one person takes action, many others think the same but cannot be bothered. In a democracy, we should express our views by voting, or demonstrating, not by spamming. Sites like 38degrees could easily be more responsible, but they suffer from a degree of self-righteousness that (to them) justifies encouraging annoying behaviour.

    Where I live, we have a very effective resident's pressure group. We have one person who directly contacts councillors, one person who is a planning specialist, and access to legal and scientific information. The rest of us supply funds and do the office jobs. We also have a fund big enough to apply for legal injunctions. This is extremely effective; local Government gets one targeted message, and they know that it has considerable real support.

  • popfile (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Monoecus (1761264) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:50AM (#33201166)

    Why not using a program like popfile (http://getpopfile.org/)?

  • Could be worse... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AmonTheMetalhead (1277044) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:56AM (#33201188)
    In Belgium someone was tried & convicted for stalking a city office because he kept mailing them....


    The guy dared send them 130 or so mails over a period of 5 years, the bloody criminal!

    Dutch article [nieuwsblad.be]
    Google translated version [google.com]
  • by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:59AM (#33201204)

    AIUI, his point is that there are always going to be pressure groups trying to change an MPs mind over an issue.

    In the past, they may have got together and drafted a letter saying "500 people in your constituency alone believe this...", put together a petition or asked their members to write letters themselves. The first two would have meant the MP has one letter to answer (and answer the letter he must, if only to ensure he doesn't develop a reputation of ignoring his constituents altogether). The last option would - with the possible exception of really controversial issues - almost never have resulted in a deluge of correspondence because while lots of people may feel strongly enough about something to sign a petition, relatively few are likely to feel strongly enough to write a letter, put a stamp on it and post it.

    Today. however, anyone can throw together a website with an email form that sends directly to a particular email address, and the amount of effort involved for the end user (particularly if most of the email is pre-written as a template) is little more than signing the petition they might have done in the past. The end result is that it's quite easy to find an MP is deluged with emails from individual constituents all basically saying the same thing - ultimately, the MP may be faced with a stark choice:

    • Ignore such emails. Not good - next thing you know there's a campaign of 500 people saying how Fred Bloggs MP didn't even have the good manners to acknowledge them.
    • Reply to each email with a form letter. Not much better - form letters tend to stick out a mile and the MP knows it.
    • Reply to each email individually. Except now your MP needs a 28 hour day to get everything done in.
    • Have an assistant draft the replies and just sign them. Or, if feeling really smart, obtain the use of an autopen machine. This is the closest thing anyone's likely to find to a real answer, and I imagine is what most MPs do. But your MP still needs to drill through the correspondence and instruct his/her assistant - well and good if the morning's email contained 10 emails needing a reply, but never going to scale if it contained 200.
  • by mister_dave (1613441) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @04:08AM (#33201222)

    In the UK, if you send an unstamped letter to someone, the recipient has to pay the postage.

    One of my MEPs shot himself in the foot a couple of years ago, he sent out unstamped letters to his electors after the election, and they had to pay the postage (if they wanted the letter), only to discover it was junk mail! So we all got a follow up apology letter, with some unused stamps as compensation. :-)

  • Re:Bayes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AVryhof (142320) <avryhof AT gawab DOT com> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @06:42AM (#33201872) Homepage

    Having run a mail server with a few hundred users, I have learned that people hate being told to run anti-spam software. They expect you to remove every piece of junk mail for them before it gets to their computer. Even with SpamAssassin, and subscriptions to most major spam and dnr databases in my configuration, people still complain, but refuse to run mail filters of their own.... and now you are dealing with someone who has a big enough ego to have gotten elected to public office, and will expect more done for him.... all I can say is good luck with that.

  • by samjam (256347) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @07:02AM (#33202030) Homepage Journal

    Well said. And isn't the tory party also a pressure group? Aren't all political parties? Maybe he doesn't like the competition.

  • by Grumbleduke (789126) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @08:13AM (#33202622) Journal

    This guy is my (brand new) MP and so I've been keeping an eye out for him and it strikes me that this is partly him trying to get in the news. He's turned up in a couple of rather silly, but newsworthy debates so far. He's young, keen and probably after a ministerial job at some point - and what better way to get noticed by (and support from) the other conservative backbenchers than by complaining about these "evil, liberal lobby groups sending lots of emails to MPs through the Interwebs... It's also a little hypercritical of him as he was actively encouraging people to send him emails to discuss issues during his election campaign. So, given how important being able to write to an MP is, and the circumstances, I strongly disagree with him removing his email address from "the public HoC Internet".

    That said, I think this is mainly 38 Degrees's fault, and I also disagree with what they (and the ORG) have been doing. Writing to one's MP is an important part of the system, however each MP may represent 100,000 people, so if each of them sent an email or letter each time they had a though, this system would break (which is almost what we are seeing here). As such, there is a useful check on this; the effort required to write a letter. Now, it may not seem like much, but when I ended up writing to his predecessor (over the Digital Economy Bill, now Act) it took the best part of a day to write the letter, make sure it was all properly worded, that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say etc. and find out where to send it. This is a good thing, as it means that the only people contacting their MPs are those that are willing to spend the time and effort to do so. By setting up a mass-template-email system, you remove this check and make it as simple as clicking a button. This is great for us, but terrible for the MP who then has to manually go through all these emails and (unlike a ministerial office, or department) is unlikely to be able to set up a mass-response system - which is what is really needed. [When I wrote to my MP, he had obviously received many template emails/letters on the same issue, so he wrote one response and sent it out to everyone - after the Bill passed.] If anything, the mass-template-emails drown out the real responses, which is a bad thing.

    Perhaps a more suitable way for 38 Degrees to act would be if they collect signatures, match them with their MP and send one email per issue (maybe after a week-long campaign) to each MP willing to take part in the system - so that MPs know how popular and important certain issues are, and get the details, but without being overloaded.

    Anyways, finally in defence of my MP, it is worth noting that he is still emailable (he's set up a form here [dominicraab.com]) and has explained his reasoning in detail on his blog [blogspot.com] (which includes his email address, sort of) - where he explains that he isn't against being emailed - he just doesn't want the mass-template emails from any lobby group, whether it is an industry or trade one.

    [I wonder how different this story would have been if it was some big corporate website encouraging people to send template emails, rather than a civil liberties one...]

  • by mdwh2 (535323) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @09:13AM (#33203152) Journal

    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 think it's much better for people to take the time to write it in their own words, putting forward their own arguments and concerns.

    So to be fair, I think what he's objecting to is not people emailing him in general, endless copies of the same thing.

    And we must remember - for every 38 degrees that might be doing something we support, there are other lobby organisations promoting all sorts of nonsense, and several bad laws have been passed because they managed to stir up a campaign, getting thousands of people to either sign a petition, click a button or whatever, without these people actually having to consider the actual issues deeply. So in general, I think encouraging people to write in their own words is a good thing.

    I also have some sympathy as this is an individual MP. Had the last Labour Government complained about this, I'd have none - Labour were keen to cite bulk copy/paste or petition responses as "evidence the public support this" when it agreed with whatever new law they were passing; but dismissed this as "an organised campaign" when the campaign disagreed (e.g., it did this with the ID cards consultation, ignoring thousands of responses that opposed the plans).

    Just one comment though:

    If 38 degress was given the time it demands from this MP

    38 degrees isn't demanding any time. The time is demanded by constituents of that MP, who have as much right to email him as any other - even if we did rather they write in their own words.

  • by mdwh2 (535323) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @09:21AM (#33203252) Journal

    But I would say things are better now. When you consider:

    In the past, they may have got together and drafted a letter saying "500 people in your constituency alone believe this...", put together a petition or asked their members to write letters themselves.

    The problem with the first two is that things like group letters and petitions are very poor indicators of support. How do we know that 500 people really believe this? E.g., it's not uncommon for an organisation to cite the number of its members as support, but we have no idea what they all individually think. How was the petition worded? Petitions are often biasedly worded, and only present one side of the argument. They also don't encourage people to actually think about the issues. And we have no idea how strongly they really care about the issue - they could just be some random person they found to say, e.g., they don't like gay marriage, but this doesn't necessarily mean they really have much of a problem with it being allowed.

    I dislike copy/paste emails to some extent to, but it's still a step up. And if people can easily write in their own views, then that's good.

    Reply to each email with a form letter. Not much better - form letters tend to stick out a mile and the MP knows it.

    I don't see a huge problem - the problem is when form letters don't even begin to address points that anyone has made. How is this worse than only sending one reply for those 500 constituents? He doesn't have to answer every single point that each person made - he just has to outline what his or his party's position on the matter is, and if they are going to do anything or not.

    And you're also missing the bigger point. When thousands of people wrote in about the Digital Economy Bill when it was being "debated", they were more concerned with the Government giving it the proper debate time it deserved rather than rushing it through. I doubt people were that bothered as to whether they got a form reply from their MP, or if it was individually written to them in reply.

  • by tsm_sf (545316) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:46PM (#33206584) Journal
    Where do you live that a first class stamp is a quarter?

    1996. The weather's nice and the politics less rabid.
  • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @02:44PM (#33207278) Homepage

    How important can his constituents be to him is an MP can't be bothered with 2 whole emails a day?

    Will he be happier if the same website prints them out when the user clicks send and then they mail the lot to him weekly? That way he can proudly proclaim that he's doing his part to waste resources in a country that's overburdened with trees HEY! wait a minute...

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