There has been an MPs expense scandal going on in the UK for a while now. Leaked expenses reports were published in daily installments by the Telegraph starting in May 2009. Whoppers have been revealed showing MPs from all parties with their snouts in the trough (“and most of them have got their front trotters in as well” – Yes, Minister).
United Kingdom MPs can claim expenses that are “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties”. After some FoI efforts were blocked, the High Court ruled in May 2009 that details of MP’s expenses claim should be released. On June 18 2009 the details of all MPs’ expenses and allowance claims that were approved between 2004 and 2008 were published on Parliament’s website.
Here’s where the Guardian’s crowdsourcing exercise comes in. The documents are generally image scans of expense claim forms, with handwritten data and receipts that can be difficult to decipher. There are about half a million pages – but using crowdsourcing and tapping into the cognitive surplus of interested volunteers, almost half of those have been reviewed already.
Volunteers simply log into the system, review a page, decide whether it contains anything interesting and digitize key data. If someone finds something that they think warrants further attention, they hit the button marked “investigate this!” and the Guardian will take a closer look.