We’ve already seen that many within the UK tech scene seem relatively pleased about the results of the UK General Election, but most of them seemed concerned about how it would impact their business more than anything else. But what about people concerned with our online civil liberties? The Pirate Party’s raison d’etre is promoting online freedom, and with the Conservative government openly supporting GCHQ surveillance and tighter internet controls, how do they feel about the results? We talk to Pirate Party UK Leader Loz Kaye to find out.
What’s your general reaction to the election results?
The 2015 General Election was a bruising campaign with a shocking result. Shocking not just that the Tories managed a slim majority against all expectations, but shocking in its implications for every part of this country’s fabric- housing, the NHS, communities, welfare and the ever more fragile Union. Yet more shocking still is the first political project rolled out by the Tories - a full on assault on civil liberties and digital rights.
What do you think the election result means for:
- The UK’s technology scene in general?
Currently the UK leads the G20 in the importance of its internet economy, with the digital economy set to add £180bn making it the second highest contributing sector after property. But this has been in spite of, not because of the government. Ministers like to sound enthusiastic about tech, but they don't really “get” it – this can be seen in everything from ill-judged comments about encryption to the lack of ambition in investment.
Ed Vaizey likes trumpeting superfast broadband, but much needs to be done. The rural and urban broadband funds have been inadequate and they ended up throwing an awful lot of money at just one company – BT. There were significant promises in the last budget about the next generation of internet access, but this was without any actual figure attached. We can only hope the Summer budget will make things clearer.
- Tech-based education [Coding, computer sciences etc.]
The previous government did make strides forward in recognising the importance of tech-based education. The trouble is now the wider context of education in the UK, which continues to be undervalued and subject to muddled thinking.
With continued pressure on public spending it is very difficult to see how schools will be able to attract the quality of staff with the knowledge they need to inspire the next generation about tech. Policy is pulling in two different directions, on the one hand skills are to be subject to devolution in Greater Manchester for example, while the government is also putting forward further forced academisation which is centralising power. This will leave a very disjointed picture.
- GCHQ’s powers
Theresa May wasted no time in announcing the return of the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter, the controversial plans to rubber stamp the blanket scooping up of all our communications. To a certain extent, as I have always pointed out, the backwards justification of programmes like TEMPORA.
Even so, the passing of the Snoopers’ Charter would be a disaster, signalling clearly that this government thinks we are all suspects, not citizens.
- People’s online privacy
There are alarmingly diffuse plans against “extremism” which the Home Secretary was utterly unable to articulate on the Today programme. These apparently include the idea of powers to ban people from broadcasting and compelling them to send every Tweet, Facebook post or other web communication to the police to be vetted. This would be chilling if it weren’t so obviously absurd in terms of the sheer police hours that would suck up.
- Internet freedoms
The Tories made it very clear during the election campaign that they would continue their attacks on internet freedoms, whether it is web filtering or surveillance. This was aided with the usual screaming tabloid headlines. All too often it seems it is the Daily Mail that is dictating the direction of tech policy, not those who actually know what they are talking about.
Quite apart from civil liberties considerations, this creates a hugely uncertain environment for ISPs and tech firms as who knows what they are pressured into doing next in direct conflict to the best interests of keeping their customers. Aral Balkan was reported as deciding to leave the country following the Tory victory. Brazil’s latest undersea fibre optic cables to avoid the US also pointedly avoid the UK too. This shows that we risk becoming a technology not-spot.
The EU has just laid out its plans for European Digital Single Market. What do you think of the plans and do you think David Cameron will want the UK to be a part of it?
The key aims of the Digital Single Market are sound, and ones that the Pirate Party have been arguing for. Geo-blocking fundamentally goes against the principle of what the web is. There is no reason that someone paying to access digital services should be prevented from using them just because, say, they are on holiday in Spain. As ever content providers are digging their heels in, which is pure protectionism. I find it bizarre that it is us pointing out the advantage of opening up markets and new customers to the music and film industries.
The previous coalition government had been supportive, but it remains to be seen if the slim majority means attitudes harden now that Cameron is in the grip of Euro-sceptic back benchers.
How do you feel the Pirate Party UK performed in this year’s elections, and what’s the plan going forward?
It was always going to be hard during a General Election under the first past the post system, this year particularly so when so much of the focus was on tactical arguments like keeping the SNP at bay or not letting the Tories in.
Once again we showed we could beat other established forces like TUSC. But for me I think we fell short of the targets we set ourselves, which is why I have decided to stand down as Leader, to let others take the movement forward. There have been increasing questions about what that new direction should be, both here and internationally. I think we have been a valuable voice on issues like digital rights and surveillance. But in my experience, clearly that is not enough for the British voters, they need to trust the Pirate Party on a wide range of issues, digital issues will not be the deciding issue alone for any sizeable part of the electorate.
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