I have had a look at the manifestos and see what they have to say on the internet and Digital Liberty. I have been very influenced by the EDRi voting exchange and summarise the issues of Digital Liberty as e-citizenship, equality before the law, privacy and copyright reform, to which for this election we must add internet governance and industrial & innovation policy. I have created a table summarising the positions of the Tories, Labour, LibDems and Greens. Possibly I should have analysed the SNP manifesto since much of this is Westmister reserved powers. I was hoping to write something easy and quick to read. I don’t think I have succeeded. My super summary is in the figure immediately below, and here is the table I built to help me write this article. (I lost the excel file, so this will have to do!) My main source was the ORG pages but I have been reading the Labour Manifesto also. I feel that the opposition parties have suffered from the surprise; they probably expected more time to develop their promises. All three opposition parties 2015 manifestos covered these issues in more depth.
On digital liberty, I believe that the LibDems have recovered their leadership position. I shall of course be voting Labour because the overall economic strategy and the agenda of fairness are more important to me, but I shall be redoubling my efforts to ensure that these issues are taken more seriously. Labour is weak on surveillance & fair copyright but the Tories are awful on these issues and equally shit on copyright and equality before the law.
Citizenship rights are defined by the European Council and its various treaties including the Convention on Human Rights which guarantee the rights of privacy, a fair trial and free speech. The key issue here is the Human Rights Act. The Tories promise not to leave the jurisdiction of the ECHR in this parliament, but do plan to leave the jurisdiction of the EU’s court and its charter of rights. They are silent on the Human Rights Act which establishes the ECHR as legally binding on British judges and law. The other three parties plan to maintain the HRA and Labour & the LibDems plan to extend the Freedom of Information Act. The Tories plan to increase the liability of internet information society service providers for protecting people from illegal and distasteful content. This is censorship and in violation of the free speech rights of internet users. They also plan to introduce voter id; a national id card by the backdoor, although we already have that.
On the issue of equality before the law, one would hope they talk about the ending of private prosecutions and the minimisation of automated justice; the Tories & Greens have little to say on the subject at all, Labour & the LibDems will re-establish equal access to the courts, particularly for judicial reviews.
On privacy, the Tories are promising people control of their data which looks like its driven by the EU’s new data protection law, the GDPR, in that some of what the Tories promise map to the GDPR’s rights. The Tories however will use a victory as a mandate to continue to attack citizen access to encryption. Labour’s promises relate almost exclusively to the Investigatory Powers Act however they are so on the fence, between security and privacy that they’ll have splinters up their arse. They say for instance that
…will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties.
Frankly it’s’ too late, the Investigatory Powers and Digital Economy Acts (2010 & 2017) do weaken our individual rights and civil liberties, this is an issue about which we wish Corbyn and Abbott would take ownership. The fact is that the LibDems promises on Privacy are the strongest, promising to abolish bulk surveillance, oppose the weakening of encryption and guaranteeing a digital bill of rights to promote ownership of personal data; is this the GDPR? The Greens oppose both corporate and state surveillance.
On Copyright, we might expect something about open source and a law that recognises fan’s rights. That’s not where the parties are. The Tories emphasise the rights of creators and harsh infringement penalties and Labour use the newspeak term “value gap” to talk about balancing the interests of creators and innovators. As I said, little room for the fans. The LibDems emphasise the barriers to entry that patent and copyright often pose. They plan to make it easier. At least its pro-consumer. The Greens, it would seem are silent this year. It’s a shame they haven’t dusted out their 2015 manifesto. My hope is that the grip that the copyright industry have on Labour is weakening through the retirement and waning influence of the shills and to some extent the dis-affiliation of BECTU. Jeremy Corbyn’s digital manifesto during the 2016 leadership campaign is also a sign of hope that Labour might actually take a view, “For the many and not the few!”. This was reviewed by Paul Bernal here…, he’s not a fan and I feel he’s a bit harsh but that it ignores much of the work done by the Digital Politics campaigning mainstream.
The EDRi makes multi-stakeholder governance one of its demands. I am actually the least sure about this. The internet is governed as a doarchy with the engineers & teachers who build and built it in control of the protocols & architecture. Governments and businesses seek to control for the purposes of censorship, survival or money, but many governments have a greater democratic legitimacy than the engineers and teachers, even more than the companies unless they get bought.
Tories plan to issue a charter on protections and responsibilities promoting the UK internet as easy to do business and the safest place in the world online. I doubt that this will be good if you are a dissident. They say that the state has a monopoly responsibility to protect its citizens and they don’t plan to share it with either the internet’s government, the ISSPs or science it would seem. Under what I consider to be the Privacy commitments, the Tories make it clear they plan to continue to mandate backdoors in secure digital communication products. They also plan to take powers to levy taxes on social media companies and ISPs. I expect that some of this will be used to “compensate” creative companies like Sky, Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony or Microsoft for supposed lost income, as if they weren’t gouging their fans & users enough already. They also have words about the ISSP responsibly for taking down terrorist content and promoting civil society. None of this is good. Labour are silent and the LibDems say they support “support free media and a free and open internet around the world, championing the free flow of information”. So that’s good then.
The section on investment is crucial, the proposals on internet infrastructure are all very similar with slight variations on pace. Only the LibDems mention 2 Gbs. Labour talk of their National Transformation plan and meeting the OECD R&D target. Both Labour and the LibDems talks of seeding science investment clusters. The Tories talk of mandating digital signatures (hackable ones presumably) and there’s room for mischief in their words as small businesses may find it harder to meet these requirements causing them to fall foul of large company purchasing chains; Labour makes the point that Government procurement will mandate good citizenship with respect to employment rights and the living wage. Labour also says,
Our National Transformation Fund will deliver the investment that every part of Britain needs to meet its potential, … Our industrial strategy will support businesses to create new, high- skilled, high-paid and secure work across the country, in the sectors of the future such as renewables.
It’s right that renewables play centre stage in the renewal of the British economy.
Image Cfredit: Wikimedia Commons CC Abbey Hendrickson 2008 BY