New UK govt to curb CCTV, scrap ID cards, help open source
The Britain of today is watched constantly by CCTV cameras, is preparing for a national ID card, slaps a "crown copyright" on most government data, and can now censor websites and eventually boot people off the Internet.
According to the new Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition government, that's all about to change. The coalition today released its unified policy statement (PDF), and for techies and privacy advocates, there's lots to like.
We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
We will outlaw the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.
We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
We will further regulate CCTV.
We will end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason.
We will create a level playing field for open-source software and will enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller components.
We will create a new "right to data" so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis.
We will introduce measures to ensure the rapid roll-out of superfast broadband across the country. We will ensure that BT and other infrastructure providers allow the use of their assets to deliver such broadband, and we will seek to introduce superfast broadband in remote areas at the same time as in more populated areas. If necessary, we will consider using the part of the TV license fee that is supporting the digital switchover to fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach.
That last bit about broadband is a change from current Labour policies, which proposed a (hugely unpopular) 50p per month tax on broadband connections to help fund universal broadband infrastructure. The new proposal draws that money from the already-existing TV license fee.
In addition, the Lib Dems have separately pledged to roll back the worst excesses of the recent Digital Economy bill that brought Web censorship and possible Internet disconnection to the UK. At a party conference over the weekend, they asked ministers to "take all possible steps to ensure the repeal of those sections of the Digital Economy Act 2010 which are inconsistent with the policy motion 'Freedom, creativity and the internet'."
That document condemned, as its first point, "website-blocking and disconnecting Internet connections as a response to copyright infringement," and it trashed the Digital Economy bill "for focusing on illegal file-sharing rather than on nurturing creativity."
The document supported "the principle of net neutrality, through which all content, sites and platforms are treated equally by user access networks participating in the Internet."
Most of these policies sound like good ones, though talk is easy enough; execution may prove more difficult. Still, it's a reminder that conservatives and liberals can find common ground on issues surrounding privacy, open-source software in government, the need for universal broadband, and the importance of open government data.