One more BNP thing – heatmaps replace pins, but Pandora's box is now open

Next Story

The PS3 draws $145 worth of electricity per year unless totally shut off

One of the interesting debates that surrounded today’s story about the BNP was what to do with the data once it got out. So far it’s pretty clear that the names and addresses of members of the BNP are way out of bounds in a legal sense. The political party, whether you agree with its far-right, largely racist policies or not, is still considered legitimate by the authorities, even though members of the Police force are banned from becoming members. BNP members remain private citizens under the law. So taking the data from the list and mashing it up with Google maps is, to use a technical term, pretty damn dodgy.

Even more problematic is using the default Google Maps pin image, which literally pinpoints a spot on the map as being the house of a BNP member. Obscuring the location of the pin by moving it around turned out to put it slap bang onto someone’s house who almost certainly had nothing to do with the BNP, as the original mapper found. As I said on Twitter, I was starting to see some really evil shit being done with the BNP list (in terms of data mashups) and implored any geeks out there to think twice and stop.

The debate was also raging on the list run by MySociety, a non-governmental organisation which has built mashups using government data before, often sailing close to the law in the interests of creating more transparency to the democratic process. One poster said they should do a mashup, but the suggestion was convincingly slapped down by MySociety’s Tom Steinburg:

“…the moment you sacrifice the values and compromises that hold together liberal democracies (such as a presumption of innocence and a right to privacy for people who’ve not actually been convicted of crimes) for the sake of humiliating your political opponents, you’re starting on a path far more likely to result in ruination for us all than a bunch of marginal wing nuts.”

Aside from that, MySociety has stayed clear of the data not least because the Information Commissioner has yet to pronounce on its use. Anything anyone does in the meantime could probably mean fines, and maybe some sort of knee-jerk legislation. Most likely the ICO will recommend all copies of this data should be destroyed.

The trouble is, the data (or at least, what we think is the data) is already out there. It’s too late.

And ominously I hear it’s being added to. There are already whispers circulating that “amended” copies of the BNP member list are doing the rounds on Bitorrent. People are settling scores with neighbours by adding them to a bogus BNP list. The potential for abuse is sky-high.

Now there is yet another Google mashup map which has used the data, still illegally under the strict letter of the law. “John Doe” and his (or her?) crew at BNP Near Me have obscured the actual addresses and aggregated BNP members into clumps around the main postcodes.

So instead of saying, effectively, “A member of the BNP lives right on this spot, we think, so feel free to go harrass them,” the result is “X BNP members in this postcode district” with a smudged red circle rather than a pin.

Even The Guardian newspaper has now wayed-in with a mashup plotting the data against constituencies.

However, I think most would agree that the entire episode has opened a complex can of worms that will still be crawling around for weeks, possibly months and years to come.

  • Updated: BNP member list mashed with Google maps creates a sea of red dots, but dangerously inaccurate

    […] coverage on this story here and […]

  • What’s wrong with having your name on a list? | almost witty

    […] So… the membership list for the British National Party (a far-right fascist party advocating the consensual repatriation for non-Europeans from British soil … oh, and giving the 2012 London Olympics back to Greece) has been leaked all over the Internet, and British geeks have been soiling themselves all day mashing the list. […]

  • Martin » Blog Archive » Following the Story: BNP

    […] One more BNP thing – heatmaps replace pins, but Pandora’s box is now open […]

  • What has the BNP ever done for us? : Dan Wilson : eBay expert, social networking, online community, ecommerce, stuff

    […] Mike Butcher of TechCrunch became unusually and increasingly self-important as the day progressed, Ian Delaney hit the nail on the head and at times LolGriffin seemed like the sanest thing out there. […]

  • Unbelievable

    I’m still speechless that nobody seems to see a real threat in targeting people based on their political belonging.

    Here is the post i made on previous article. You guys all talk about the mashup in technical terms, etc. Nobody just see any disturbing behaviour in showing publicly this data in a way which is a silent call for “hey this guy in your street is in BNP, just make sure you hit him with your car next time you see it or think about setting fire in his house”…

    Sorry i have a Godwin law or Reductio Ad Hitlerum for the very first post : Nazis did not do anything else in 30s/40s with jews. Think about it.

    I am speechless…
    That the most disturbing news i ever eard in years.
    And you guys are just saying “oh yeah that’s interesting data”.
    Well, shoud we just kill these guys for being BNP ?
    What about a mashup of jews residants with yellow stars instead of pins ?
    What about a mashup of muslims, christians, gays, black, white, yellow, blue peoples ?
    Have you all guys lost your mind ?!

    – sorry i’m fluent in not english –

  • Rob Dyke

    While there are many political uses of the information, the lists of names of membership of any organisation should be kept private. Lists of names, as Tom Steinberg (MySociety) said, start us down a path best not begun. There are lots of lists of names missing or lost about the place, perhaps they shouldn’t be seeded as torrents or publicly searchable. Just because there are techniques to mash this data and present it in interesting ways (against ethnicity data, or social deprivation indexes, or just against voter turnout) does not mean that anyone should.

  • bnpnearme

    Hi. I’m one of the guys involved with

    I’m sorry, Unbelievable, but what exactly are you talking about? None of these mashups show any personally identifiable information, so how exactly is anyone going to get run down in their car?

    When this news story broke, a lot of people were interested in the data, but were unable to obtain or visualise it in a meaningful format (we certainly had to do a lot of data processing to get the information into a useful form). All we did was make that easier for people who are interested.

  • Unbelivable

    “bnpnearme”, so tell me what so interesting in knowing that “a bnp is near me” (wow, scaring) ?

    I do insist. What about “” ?

    This is all about it. Just ask yourself what the purpose of your website is. Is it innocent or do you deliberatly and publicly want to condemn a certain category of people ?
    This is a human chase against “wrong thinking” people. In the name of “democracy” right ? This is fascist behaviour.

    “No liberty for enemys of liberty” – this is a french quote during 1789 revolution (Antoine de Saint-Just). This led to a period called “the terror” where people suspected not to support the revolution where just… a… kind of killed. You know the “Guillotine” stuff… In Vendée (actually not far for Bretagne, near England) entiere population where killed by theses army “of liberty”, women, children, no pity, because they were just not ok with the way things were going.

    Yeah oh by the way, this guy from the quote, Saint-Just, he was “guillotined” too. Was suspected not to totaly agree with any stupid dogm of the revolutino, or whatever. Funny don’t you think ?

    You may not invoke democracy or wtf you want about human rights and other things to JUSTIFY what you are doing. You are just in the fanatic camp.
    Just go offline with your human chase website, respect people and what they think, wether you are ok or not.

  • Rob

    Can someone please come and get me?

    I have been dying to use my Tony Martin costume for ages!

  • Paul Battley

    The ‘jewnearme’ map you suggest as a counter-example already exists. Go to , click on ‘Multicultural Atlas of London’, and select the ethnic group you’re interested in.

    I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before, though.

  • Social Media 2009: That Was The Year That Was : Dan Wilson : eBay expert, social networking, online community, ecommerce, stuff

    […] ‘racist bastards’ it’s all over the web and geeks had shared it and started mashing it up. Some of the BNP maps were better than others. This episode highlighted two things. In the popular media, the net is seen as the wild west where […]

blog comments powered by Disqus