A Guest Spot by The Blocked Dwarf
It has oft been said that the only good thing that Anthony Charles ‘Son Of Satan’ Lynton Blair esq. did in office was the Data Protection Act 1998, which gave us the SAR (Subject Access Request and Freedom of Information Requests). However that is being slightly unfair to the man-no good deed going unpunished and all that. He may have introduced the act and taken it through Parliament but it was actually at the behest of the evil empire; EU
(you may boo and hiss if you must).
For the Non-Brits I will explain: a Subject Access Request means I can demand any Government Agency (and pretty much anyone else for that matter) has to hand me out copies of everything , of all the information, they hold on me. Every letter they have written to me, every letter sent to them, every ‘recorded for security and training purposes’ phone call, every form filled in and every written decision and judgement made, of all evidence gathered. It is an amazing weapon when jousting at the windmills of civil servicedom. Often even the mere threat of an SAR being submitted alone can be enough… and every investigative blogger and journalist should print off a copy of the Act, colourize it in gold and then get down on their hands and knees and kiss it. Kiss it every morning. I lose count of how many articles I read each year that start with the phrase ‘following an FOI request’.
Accordingly I recently submitted an SAR to our Department Of Stealth & Total Bloody Obscurity as we Children of the 80s still refer to the DWP (more properly the ‘Department Of Work & Pensions’) for all the evidence they hold on The Bestes Frau In The Whole Widest World. I’ve been battling with them now for the better part of a year to get her paid the right level of disability benefit.
Their answer arrived the other day which surprised me because the post had already been that day a few hours earlier. But I opened the door, having rushed downstairs with Granddaugther 2 on my arm, to find the post lady struggling with a huge mail bagged parcel…which she had left on the van earlier so as not to have to lug it around the town. A parcel that weighed 4.5kg- yes I am that sad that I actually weighed it. A packet that measured half a metre across and was 7cm deep.
Among all the paperwork they sent me was a pile of printouts-of every payment we have received since 2007. A huge concertinaed pile of paper with holes all the way down both sides of the 45cm wide sheets. Looking at the printouts themselves they look like they were printed off in Courier. Being of an eternally curious nature, and fearing the worst, I emailed Grandad, whose knowledge of such things goes back to babbage 2.1. He confirmed they look for all the world like the mainframe printouts of yore.
Let me break that down for you. Our biggest spending government department is using ‘computers’ (actually probably ‘terminals’)and printers so old they probably have to get that printer paper specially made! Remember 8″ floppy disks-floppies that really were? Well compared to those printouts, 8″ floppies would be the bleeding razors edge of cutting technology. Only punch cards would be more archaic. They are using , for their payment systems, mainframes so old as to be genuine antiques and god only knows what OS…maybe VAX ? At any rate it will be an OS that still thinks it’s talking to a teletype writer…hell it probably IS talking to a teletype writer (that’s assuming the DWP hasn’t finally upgraded to faxes).
I had wondered , when submitting the request, that there was no ‘send me it in electronic format’ option. Didn’t they promise us a paperless world? Now I know why. All the billions they have spent on IT and no one, apparently, has come up with a way of adding a usb socket to their steam powered mainframes. Forget all about the saving the rain forests for a moment, what’s the postage like on 4.5kg of dead tree these austerity filled days? But fear ye not, those trees will not have died in vain- I learnt at school that daisy wheel printer paper is the bestes thing for drawing on. Granddaughter 2 will be in ‘dwar-wing’ heaven and as an added bonus they have finally found a way of removing the green stripes from the paper.
Oh and in case you were wondering, that 4.5kg pile of documents were incomplete! CL0wn5 2 the left of me…