I’m fascinated by the subject of data integrity: the growing challenge of sorting out the truth in a world dominated by mistakes, disinformation, FUD and spin. I don’t believe everything I read without compelling evidence and a strong dose of reality, though I must admit that it sometimes seems that, increasingly, reality can be stranger than fiction. In particular I’m amazed at how quickly news items can go global, and, in some cases, viral.
I was surprised, for example, to read the recent, highly publicised story, sourced by the Sun, about an MI6 camera being bought by an individual over eBay. Now I have absolutely no idea if it’s true. But whether or not it is, it just doesn’t seem credible to me. But it’s been quickly taken up and reported by quality newspapers worldwide.
I can’t help having some doubts about this story. Firstly, it seems very odd that MI6 should be using cheap consumer cameras for operational work, and even odder that they should dispose of them through eBay without checking them out. They’re not that stupid.
Secondly, it seems surprising that it’s been so solidly attributed to MI6, though it sounds as though the material could just as easily been sourced by any other agency with an interest in the subject area.
Thirdly, the description of the contents sounds unusual: fingerprint information, log-in details for the Secret Service’s computer network, with a “Top Secret” marking. They don’t sound like likely subjects of photographs. Just take a look at the images on the Sun’s website. Do they look natural?
Yet we have a major crisis. Perhaps someone in government has informally confirmed the facts. Otherwise I would find it hard to believe that anyone would believe a story like this coming from an average man in the street.
And that’s the real problem. We will all assume that someone in the media would have taken the trouble to substantiate the story. In the absence of any indication to the contrary, we will tend to believe what we read in the press.