The government’s relentless drive towards transparency hit another comical turn this week after it was confirmed that you can create a Petition on Parliament’s dedicated petition website – you just can’t see who’s signed it.
Researching Reform decided to create a petition two weeks ago which focused on improving the structure of the UK’s Juvenile Justice System. Much to our frustration, the site now hugely restricts your ability to write a proper petition headline, and accompanying information – it’s like Twitter for Mensa.
The end result is that it is much harder for people to understand the background to a petition, and so few are likely to sign it.
Still, we decided to soldier on with it and once we received our notification email telling us the petition had been accepted and was now live on the site, we decided to see who had signed it.
And then realised we couldn’t.
All you do get is a sorry looking link titled ‘Get Petition Data’ (json format), which allows you to see where the signatories are based within the UK and who the overseeing MP in their area is. If like us, you created a petition, there may have been a moment in which you thought MPs had all flocked to your petition to sign it. That euphoria is short lived once you realise the House of Commons Petition Committee is mocking you and your dwindling hope for an open and transparent government.
We wrote to the Committee asking why we couldn’t see who had signed our petition and this was their response:
Dear Natasha ,
Thank you for your email.
Only the name of the creator of the petition is published on our website. The names of those who have signed the petition and their postcodes are not publically available, even to the petition creator. This information is held securely and confidentially on our system.
I hope this helps with your enquiry.
In other words, you can’t see who’s signed your petition but the Petitions Committee, can, and whilst we have no desire to access the postcodes or personal details of those signing our petitions, we do think petition creators should at least be able to see the names of all those who sign their petitions.
To make matters worse, your petition has a shelf life of only 6 months. That might reduce the Petition Committee’s work load a little bit, but as a timeframe it’s unreasonable.
So what you’re left with is a pretty opaque petition website which will only benefit those who hit a tidal wave of public interest at the right time, or have a network of people on hand to flood their petition with signatures and shares.
Long live democracy.