Who texts the PM?

An OIA request for information about the Prime Minister deleting his text messages is back (hat-tip to @eey0re) and Wayne Eagleson has found another wafer-thin excuse for the wholesale deletion of his master’s cellphone records:

With the large volume of text messages received and sent by the Prime Minister every day, these need to be regularly deleted not only for security reasons but also to ensure that the Prime Minister is always able to send or receive messages by preventing the cellphone exceeding its memory capacity.

What I always like to do with issues around newfangled technology is compare them to an old-school, “real-world” situation. In this case, let’s imagine that Treasury has been OIA’d about documents relating to a policy decision, like cutting taxes. And let’s imagine that the response says, “We can’t produce those papers, because we destroyed them.” And when people say “I’m sorry, what the hell did you just say?” Treasury responds,

With the large volume of documents received and written by the Treasury every day, these need to be regularly incinerated to ensure the Treasury is always able to receive and write documents by preventing our filing cabinets exceeding their capacity.

Yeah, that’s not how it’s meant to work, and they know it.

My view on this issue from day 1 has been: sure, you don’t want to keep sensitive material on a cellphone in case it gets nicked. Sure, cellphones only have a limited memory capacity. But if you are a senior civil servant, or an experienced politician, you know damn well that there is a set of principles and rules around preserving that information for the integrity of the state.

Maybe those rules aren’t completely up-to-date with all the new nifty ways we have of communicating. Maybe there’s not a specific “how to deal with a ton of meaningless text messages about when the car’s arriving” guideline.

So you ask. If you appreciate the need for transparent and accountable government, that is.

Unless, of course, it’s very convenient for you to just go “oh whoops, there’s no guidelines around deleting thousands of messages sent and received by the Prime Minister’s Prime Ministerial cellphone, guess we’ll just erase them.”

Because then no one would ever be able to prove, to pick a random example, just how often he contacts Cameron Slater.

The downfall of John Key

The question of the day is whether John Key mishearing, forgetting, or not wanting to answer questions about Cameron Slater’s bizarre text messages is going to be the nail in his coffin.

Bryce Edwards is asking it, and Bryan Gould is one of many people wondering what kind of dirt Slater must have on Key to make him, against all apparent political logic, refuse to jettison the alliance with the attack blogger.

The thing is, if you’ve been around the online world of NZ politics for any amount of time, it’s always felt fairly obvious that associating with a nasty smear merchant like Cameron Slater would have to blow up in Key’s face at some point. It had to, if there were any justice in the world.

Haven’t we known for years that Cameron Slater/WhaleOil was a vicious piece of work who built his pageviews on clickbait, spam, and personal attacks? Haven’t we known for years that he was, in one way or another, deeply involved in the National Party political machine? Weren’t people pointing out that his writing style changed markedly from post to post depending on the target, and that his targets were frequently people or organisations which were opposing the interests of key National Party players?

Wasn’t everyone saying when Dirty Politics was released that it just confirmed everything we already knew?

So in a sense, last week’s text messages, and the shifty-looking way Key has tried to avoid talking about them, doesn’t feel like much of a killing blow. If you were already looking at Cameron Slater and John Key and thinking “well we know something’s going on there” it’s not even the biggest, scariest piece of information we know about their friendship. For it to bring about John Key’s downfall, it would have to mean the wider situation had changed.

And maybe it has, with journalists feeling pretty pissed off – that Key doesn’t even try to hide the fact he’s dodging their questions, that Key gave his new cellphone number to Slater but not even members of the Press Gallery, and that all this is coming after it’s been made crystal clear that Slater has access to information, even help straight from the PM’s office to get that information, which they will never get.

On the other hand, the general election’s done. National could crash ten points in the polls overnight and it wouldn’t change the fact that we can’t recall Prime Ministers, and they don’t have an obvious, immediate replacement for Key who could hope to make things any better.

And in three years, who even knows if people will care about what John Key texted to that WhaleOil guy that one time?