Bureaucracy Meets the Web

Three things from the past week happened to be related to bureaucracy and the Web…

Receiving Donations is OK but Stating the Mechanism is Not?

Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) is under police investigation for illegal fund-raising. EFFI is a registered association whose constitution state that it may receive donations. The National Board of Patents and Registration of Finland has approved countless of association constitutions that allow receiving donations. In fact, such a clause is included in the sample constitution provided by the National Board of Patents and Registration.

EFFI had stated its account number on its Web site in order to actually enable people to make donations. The Ministry of Interior thinks that stating the account number for the purpose of donations constitutes fund-raising that requires a permit in Finland. In my opinion, stating the mechanism for making donations on the Web site of an association is very different from actively contacting people and soliciting for money.

Interestingly enough, EFFI is the only association being investigated for this practice. Could it be that the anonymous submitter of the investigation request has been of different opinion with EFFI on a legislative issue?

Curiously, the Committee of Administrative Affairs of the Parliament thinks that donations to projects that provide software free of charge are not fund-raising but normal commerce, because the donor has received the software in consideration for the donation!

Database Queries with a Civil Servant as Middleware

The annual accounts of companies are public documents in Finland. Since 1998, these documents exist as scanned bitmaps wrapped in PDF containers. If you call the National Board of Patents and Registration, it is pretty obvious that the person taking your call is doing database queries in order to answer your questions.

So can you query this database from a Web interface? In a way, yes. But not really. First you call by phone in order to check the availability of the documents. Then there is an HTML form you fill in and submit. Then (I assume) a civil servant finds the PDFs for you and emails them to you using a template (or perhaps a script). The documents cost a whopping €10 a piece. An invoice follows in snail mail.

Database Taking Nights and Sundays Off

I wanted to get data on a corporate entity based in the UK. It was Sunday. I followed a link to Companies House in order to query their database. The system greeted me with this message:

Access to the service is closed

Companies House is available from Monday to Saturday 07:00 - 12 Midnight UK Time