Government transparency doesn't matter without accountability

My latest Guardian column is "Government data like crime maps is not enough – there needs to be action," and it looks at two recent data-crunching apps for UK policing: first, the crime-maps that tell you what the crime's like in your neighbourhood, and second, Sukey, an app that helps protesters evade police "kettling" — an inhumane form of arbitrary detention practiced by police.

When the citizenry need to build apps to protect themselves from unlawful detention by the police, it's not surprising that a new application that allows you to go down to your local police station and ask them to do something about some newly transparent crime statistic is greeted with indifference or jeers. If you can't trust the police not to detain your children on a freezing road for hours, why would you believe that you could have a productive dialogue about how they should be deploying their resources?

After all: tuition fee rises are a complete reversal of a critical Lib Dem pledge; mass NHS redundancies for nurses and other frontline workers are a complete reversal of a critical Tory pledge. When you've voted for a party that promises one thing and does the opposite, no amount of data about how rotten things are will inspire you to join a "big society" that works with the state to accomplish its aims.

Meanwhile, Sukey's authors cleverly included a facility in their app that allows the police to communicate with demonstrators who are using it – an architecture for dialogue, built right in at the code level. If this was a "big society", then the police would be using that channel to come to some accommodation with protestors that acknowledged the fundamental right to peaceful protest. But the radio silence to date tells us exactly why the crime map will serve no purpose: what good is it to know how your taxes are spent if you don't believe that anyone will listen when you complain?

Government data like crime maps is not enough – there needs to be action

(Image: A lot of yellow : TSG Police Line : Student Protests – Parliament Square, Westminster 2010, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bobaliciouslondon's photostream)