Technology and privacy issues in the UK elections

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

April 30, 2015

Lately, I’ve devoted space to the 2016 US Presidential elctions and how tech policy is playing out in it. Also emanating from America has been chatter about the impending expiration of notorious Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and its role in US communication surveillance. Today the focus is on a more immediate event – the UK elections of May 7, and what the parties have to say on tech matters. In this vein we will examine a few areas in particular- data retention and digital government data being highlighted.

It is probably worth noting that the election won’t hinge or swing on a party’s posture on tech issues, as there does not seem to be a compelling ’’technology vote”. That being said, how a party looks at tech issues may be a deciding factor in making your choice. But whether you only have a passing interest or a passion, we hope the following will resonate with you.The revelations of Edward Snowden still reverberate on the campaign trail, and cast a long shadow on the election. The main parties differ on some matters affecting surveillance, privacy and retention of personal data.

Data retention

The Conservatives would retain vigorous access to communications data, but more the identities of the communicators, from where they’re communicating and how- not so much the content of a conversation or communication. The usual rationale applies i.e. foiling terrorist plots, stymieing cybercriminals, ending child pornography and human trafficking.

The LibDems are staunchly opposed to the blanket collection of UK resident’s personal communication by the police or intelligence services and would require law enforcement agencies to have probable cause before allowing access to personal data or communication.

Digital government and data

The free data revolution started by Gordon Brown’s government, and the Coalition’s opening up of government procurement to smaller companies, as well as implementation of “agile” practices through the Government Digital Service (GDS) has changed the face of government radically since January 2010. The Guardian wonders if this will continue. The Conservatives purport to “continue to be the most transparent government in the world.”

The LibDems, who applaud the GDS efforts would extend its practices to local governments, and to ensure that technology implications of government activity are properly monitored, they favor introducing Technology Impact Assessments into the policy process. Meanwhile, Labour would attempt to reduce the cost of government by creating a more responsive, down-sized, and more cost efficient government.

Other Issues

Aside from the major parties’ take on those main topics is the thorny issue of copyright. The Green Party has taken the high-ground by proposing changes to copyright law which would make copyright periods shorter ( 14 year – the current law is 70 years after the author’s death), fair and flexible and inapplicable to software.

Read the Guardian article in greater depth if you want more detailed information or if you are leaning toward a minor party and want to learn its position. If you’re not normally politically inclined but fervent on issues of surveillance and privacy, you might do well to digest each party’s stance and cast your ballot accordingly on May 7.

Editor’s note: For an alternative view on this subject, please see our article UK parties’ general election promises on surveillance.

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