Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bizarre Opaque Transparency from Aberdeen City Council.

Local government transparency 

 Getting council business out in the open will revolutionise local government and enable the Big Society. Transparency is the foundation of accountability. Local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their council tax is being spent, and decisions made on their behalf. It is also a powerful means of promoting efficiency, without requiring the heavy-handed intervention of an unaccountable bureaucracy.


City Garden - Project Monitoring Group

The role of the Project Monitoring Group is to oversee the City Garden project's progress and ensure that Council's interests, and that of the majority of Aberdeen citizens, are protected as the project progresses.




City Garden Project Monitoring Group

Note of Meeting held at 9.30am on Friday 20 May 2011
Committee Room 5, Town House



Sanitization and Redaction

Sanitization is the process of removing sensitive information from a document or other medium, so that it may be distributed to a broader audience. When dealing with classified information, sanitization attempts to reduce the document's classification level, possibly yielding an unclassified document. Originally, the term sanitization was applied to printed documents; it has since been extended to apply to computer media and the problem of data remanence as well.
Redaction generally refers to the editing or blacking out of text in a document, or to the result of such an effort. It is intended to allow the selective disclosure of information in a document while keeping other parts of the document secret. Typically the result is a document that is suitable for publication, or for dissemination to others than the intended audience of the original document. For example, when a document is subpoenaed in a court case, information not specifically relevant to the case at hand is often redacted.

Government secrecy

In the context of government documents, redaction (also called sanitization) generally refers more specifically to the process of removing sensitive or classified information from a document prior to its publication, during declassification.

Secure document redaction techniques

The traditional technique of redacting confidential material from a paper document before its public release involves crossing out portions of text with a wide black pen, followed by photocopying the result. This is a relatively easy to understand process and has only minor risks associated with it. For example, if the black pen is not wide enough, careful examination of the resulting photocopy may still reveal partial information about the text, such as the difference between short and tall letters. The exact length of the removed text also remains recognizable, which may help to guess plausible wordings for shorter redacted sections. Where computer-generated proportional fonts were used, even more information can leak out of the redacted section in the form of the exact position of nearby visible characters.



Regardless of the rights or wrongs, transparency or opacity, paranoia or caution which has motivated our elected local council representatives in our and their appointed executives minor provincial county town to undertake this 'redaction', it just looks bad. As one online commenter said:
Nice to see that everything is transparent so as to avoid the feeling of conspiracy and underhanded activity. Good confidence-building job. As ever.
But we have another point: the fact that this has been done should give us pause; should make us consider whether or not these people are suitably qualified, skilled, competent and suitable individuals to be trusted with the execution of this controversial project. We say this because we are not investegative journalists, we are not computer geeks, and we are not cryptologists - but nonetheless we managed to obtain quite by accident unredacted copies of the texts as we were preparing this post. Here are full, redacted copies of the minutes. If anyone wants copies of the unredacted text, you can contact us at and we'll be delighted to oblige.


Following our reportage of this hilarious mis-step, a local newspaper published this article, the and most of the redaction has been removed from the online copies of the minutes.
Thanks to blogger rxpell for the scan.

No blanks in that one.

The law firm name 'Brodies' has been blanked.

Again, the law-firm name 'Brodies' has been blanked.

We wonder why?


Anonymous said...

Look, it's really easy - most of those redactions are unwarranted. But you need to understand that it's a game. To enter the next round, you ask for an internal review. This might reveal more information; possibly not. In Round 3, you complain to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who will likely insist that the names be revealed. You win. It takes time but no money. You don't get what you want unless you keep pushing.

Other Aberdeen said...

Hi @Anonymous. Thanks for the comment. Getting round the redactions is technically very easy. You can probably guess the names anyway if you know about ACC and current events. It's the very fact of the redaction and the fact that it's been executed incompetently (email us if you want to know how) that constitutes the story of paranoia and incompetence here.

Anonymous said...

It is fantastically absurd. Like MPs turning up in the Commons wearing balaclavas; or senior civil servants attending Parliamentary committees with a paper bags on their heads. Unintentional echoes of the Unknown Comic. Can't begin to imagine what will happen if they are given £200m+ to spend on a plaza. Keep up the good work.

Richard Pelling said...

Great work. One highlight from the minutes of 26th April : "MRC will produce a comprehensive design brief and this will be submitted to Council on 29 June 2011, for ratification, before being issued to the short listed companies." Of course no such detailed design brief was presented or ratified by Council on 29th June 2011 yet the design competition apparently rolls on. If the first competition jury meeting goes ahead as scheduled on 20th July, Aberdeen City Council appear to have lost control and been effectively excluded from the design process. This serves to highlight the need for greater transparency and greater scrutiny of the CSP/CGP.

Anonymous said...

It appears that ACC have systemic problems with freedom of information, as they confess to the Information Commissioner ...