I emailed the House of Commons petitions Committee at 4am this morning (yes that’s right) with some concerns over the frequency with which our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is yoyoing up and down at the moment as bot attacks add signatures and then these are removed later in the day (often quickly).
Just to be clear – I do not see any more of the working s of the e-petition than any of you do so I know no more about it than you.
You’ll notice that the response below sounds calm and reassuring. there are no doubts at all about our current total being way over 100,000 signature and the claim that the whole process is robust – so it must be.
I might enquire further – but not for a while as I have another two days of Bird Fair to enjoy!
Thank you very much for your message. I will answer as best I can!
The short answer is that I can’t give you a full explanation of the process by which attacks are spotted – I’m a parliamentary procedure expert rather than an IT one. The technical side of the site is looked after for us by the Government Digital Service. They are, understandably, fairly reticent about sharing too much about their security techniques – because to do so might well undermine their effectiveness. You might try them through the Cabinet Office though:
I can say that there are both automated and manual checks that GDS do on signature patterns, which identify suspicious patterns and block or remove fraudulent signatures. This monitoring is happening more or less constantly. To answer your understandable concern about over-correction, I can assure you that signatures are only removed when we are sure that they are not genuine.
As some more practical reassurance, I can tell you that when we had a similar problem with the EU referendum petition, we were contacted by many people who were concerned that their signatures might have been wrongly removed. In every case, we checked the system for them and found that the signature had not been removed.