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The UK Government's Struggle With Digital Rights 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the regulating-a-series-of-tubes dept.
With his first accepted submission, Ajehals sends this excerpt from a post by the UK Pirate Party: "... at every turn, the coalition has been exposed as having no coherent policy on digital rights. Nothing illustrates this better than its zig-zag course on Internet filtering and website blocking. ... As if any further confirmation was needed that the government's policy on digital rights, and freedom of speech is entirely made up on the fly, along came the riots and a classic knee-jerk reaction to the use of social media. ... one of the few concrete parts of David Cameron’s statement to the recalled House of Commons was a full on attack on social media. It was carefully worded, but the thrust was that the Prime Minister thought further action is necessary to combat the 'ill' done by status updates. At this point things took a turn for the authoritarian, with MP Louise Mensch saying it was 'acceptable to shut Twitter and Facebook off for an hour or two.' ... Worse still, it has been recently revealed that the Government actually asked Ofcom to make Digital Economy Act appeals harder. It also wants to rule out a public consultation – once again trying to do deals away from the public eye. I suspect it is actually this fear of the power technology can give us to hold our representatives to account that drives alarm about the Internet in the corridors of power."
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The UK Government's Struggle With Digital Rights

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  • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail. c o m> on Sunday September 04, 2011 @05:10AM (#37301418) Homepage

    The UK doesn't have a policy on civil rights anymore. Those were eroded away over the last few years.

    • by Andy_R (114137) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @07:00AM (#37301690) Homepage Journal

      The interesting thing is that none of the parties (with the exception of us Pirates, of course) even has a solid position on civil rights. With almost any other issue, Labour will go one way, Conservatives the other, and the Liberals will suggest a compromise. Membership of the European Union and the legal status of fox hunting are the only other issues that the big parties can't seem to make up their minds on, and falling out over both has caused a lot of internal damage to the parties.

      On digital (and to a lesser extent civil) rights, all the other parties are flip-flopping or in internal disagreement. The really odd thing about this is (unlike fox hunting or EU membership) it doesn't represent the mood of the general public, who either don't care or are strongly in favour.

      I'm shocked that neither of the 2 big parties have jumped on to the digital and civil rights bandwagon, forcing the opposition to take a less popular stance against them. It's a sure-fire vote winner, that doesn't have a economic big cost to implement.

      • by jez9999 (618189) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @07:52AM (#37301814) Homepage Journal

        That assumes the big two parties give a shit about votes, and not their paymasters. The electorate are also highly malleable. Recently, the Tories sold them the idea that the current electoral system is better than AV.

        I'm coming round more and more to the idea that we should just scrap the veil of 'democracy' altogether.

        • by MrL0G1C (867445)
          Or perhaps the electorate realised the the replacement was a retarded bunch of crap, what is needed is proportional representation not this half-arsed attempt to appease some liberal democrat MPs who have lost all credibility.
          • by Xest (935314)

            Not really, PR and AV solve two different problems. Either is better than the current system though.

            Proportional representation ensures that every vote is equal, and ensures that the result of an election is proportional to the will of the people.

            AV doesn't ensure proportionality but it does ensure more balanced representation. Under FPTP (the current system), an MP generally only has to appease 25% - 30% of their electorate to get elected, with the other 70%+ of their electorate being potentially entirely

            • by MrL0G1C (867445)
              AV is a pointless compromise, accepting that compromise could possibly remove the chance of PR being put forward for several more decades. I disagree that MPs would change their political stance. AV still encourages tactical voting which sucks because people aren't voting for what they believe in and end up with an MP they don't like.
              • by Xest (935314)

                Why's it a pointless compromise? It's still better than the current system as I pointed out.

                On the contrary, having AV would increase the chance of PR because it'd mean MPs would have to be more representative of the people and less representative of vested interests, and vested interests are firmly against PR.

                MPs would HAVE to change their politcal stance or they wouldn't get elected- it's that simple, and it's laughable to suggest it could consider tactical voting because that's precisely the problem we h

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I'm coming round more and more to the idea that we should just scrap the veil of 'democracy' altogether.

          So your argument is that because we don't have a pefect democracy, we might as well just say "fuck it"?

          With your attitude, we'd never have got votes for women, the abolition of slavery and child labour, protection for workers against the extremes of capitalist exploitation or any other of the improvements over the last couple of hundred years.

          • by jez9999 (618189)

            Wouldn't we? Or would those things, driven as they were by the changing moral zeitgeist, simply have happened by some other means?

            My argument is that because we have a fucking useless unrepresentative democracy in which half the people don't even vote, we might as well just say "fuck it".

      • Watch Yes Minister, not as a series on a specific subject but to get a feeling for the general atmosphere that exists in politics. Is it exaggerated for comedy effect? Not as much as you might think to some politicians of the time who commented on it.

        If you jump on an issue and use it against the other side, the other side will use it against you when it comes time to deliver. take for instance the police. The Tories want safety BUT they are firing a record number of police officers and Labour is just teari

        • by AGMW (594303) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @12:43PM (#37302904) Homepage

          The Liberals made plenty of pledges... like education and then whoops ...

          ... and then whoops, they didn't win, so all bets are off! I'm not a Lib Dem supporter, but really, their election promises were for if they won the election and however you cut it, they didn't win!

          I'm more annoyed about both Lib Dem and Con MPs who said they'd repeal the Digital Economy Act if they got into power and they haven't done so. That's a far more heinous crime because there was really nothing to stop them just cutting it dead in the water on day one after the Nu-Liebour unelected mandarin, and multi-expelled from government for sleaze, Lord Mandlemort rail-roaded it through at the last minute.

          It will be interesting to see what the parties are willing to promise next time around, but of course we haven't actually held them to their word this time, so I guess we're just back to business as usual!

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            and then whoops, they didn't win, so all bets are off! I'm not a Lib Dem supporter, but really, their election promises were for if they won the election and however you cut it, they didn't win!

            The did get to decide the terms of the coalition though, and they apparently agreed to ditching all their major policies and getting thoroughly screwed by the Tories. The signed a contract saying they wouldn't raise tuition fees so I don't think it is unreasonable to expect them to have made that a condition of any alliance. If the Conservatives wouldn't agree to it they could always have gone with Labour, or just let them form a minority government.

            The Lib Dems were supposed to be the party with principals

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          A known criminal was shot while in possesion of a loaded weapon, something that is rather worse in a country where most police is not armed. the outcry? A black leader claiming that yes, this known dangerous criminal had a loaded weapon but surely that is not a reason to shoot someone... eh yes it is?

          While I have little sympathy for professional armed criminals who get killed, the fact remains that the police here aren't allowed just to shoot them just because they have a weapon.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      The UK doesn't have a policy on civil rights anymore. Those were eroded away over the last few years.

      I know that's the knee jerk libertarian response here on slashdot, but curiously enough the right to riot and arrange looting is secondary to the right of everyone else not to have their houses burned down and their businesses wrecked.

      While I don't suppose blocking blackberries, twitter or whatever would actually work, the idea does not seem so appalling to anyone who has watched mobs at work in their home town.

      There is, in any case, no country in the world where there is a "human right" to riot viole

  • by Zsub (1365549) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @05:20AM (#37301448)
    V for Vendetta
    1984
    A Brave New World

    We see it coming and just don't give a damn, it seems. Where are the times governments were afraid of their people? Or at least had some respect for their people?
    • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @05:47AM (#37301530)

      No way dude. If twitter and facebook are inaccessible for even one minute because they are rebooting their servers it is way worse than 1984 or V for Vendetta because access to twitter is a basic human right. Not having access to them would be like if North Korea was run by Hitler disguised as Big Brother. And like you know how everyone is smoking dope and shit. Well that's exactly like soma in Brave New World. We should totally legalize it. And if you like put on a mask and try and blow up Parliament people call you a terrorist.

      • by gilleain (1310105)
        Sir, I I had a hat, I would be tipping it to you!
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If the government is deliberately taking down the most popular communications media for the purpose of stifling free speech, that is a big deal.

        The "War on Drugs" is actually the "War on Some Drugs". It is first and foremost a money maker. In particular relation to this conversation, it keeps the demand for pharmaceuticals up. Misprescription of drugs is one of the largest killers in this country. They just almost killed a friend of mine who went into the hospital for meningitis, she would probably be dead

      • So it is Brave New World after all. Those sites are the new Soma. They soothe the populace. Yes, some care must be taken down to delete the really dangerous threads, otherwise all is nice and dandy with cat pictures.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is there some Godwin's Law equivalent for mentioning 1984/Orwell when discussing the UK government? If not, there should be.

      More specifically, people saying: "I didn't think 1984 was meant to be an instruction manual!" or similar.

      If you have a problem with the policy - explain why you think it's a bad policy.

      • by coolmadsi (823103)

        If you have a problem with the policy - explain why you think it's a bad policy.

        Which policy? My understanding of the article is that the three main political parties in the UK either have no policy (regarding digital rights), or don't understand the issues well enough (which has led them in the past to say something, then later backtrack because they realise it is unworkable or infeasible). I would say that an inconsistent and contradictory policy is a bad one.

      • There is an inverse law: Whenever those wanting to restrict rights mention pedophiles, they win automatically. It's an unbeatable argument, because no matter how stupid their proposal may be few people of any influence will dare to criticise it for fear of being seen as endangering children.
      • The population of the internet seem to be under the mistaken impression that reductio ad Hitleram is actually the end of the argument. It is not. Hitler did many things apart from gas Jews and invade Poland, and some of those things are similar to things done in current Western democracies. Censoring of speech which is against the government's mandate, inhibition of the right to peacefully congregate / protest, control of private enterprise for the purposes of preventing freedom of information... No, they'r
    • Have you read Brave New World? Control was based on distraction, not policing -- it was basically on the opposite end of the spectrum from 1984. People were allowed to disagree with the government and reject the society of the world; they just had to do so on an island somewhere.
      • Re:Brave New World? (Score:4, Informative)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @10:27AM (#37302324)
        The islands were not public knowledge.

        Brave New World showed a society controlled by luxury and trivia - the bread and circuses approach. Rather than keep people in their assigned place through the threat of violence, BNWs model kept people in their place by making them so happy there that they would not want to consider rebellion. The system gave them food, comfort, a culture of sexual liberation, and all the shallow and vapid entertainment they could ever want - even the promise of a recreational drug to relieve any feelings of futility coming from living a life pre-scripted by the government. As dystopias go, it's one of the better ones - even those who are most 'oppressed,' the deltas, are manufactured and conditioned in such a manner that they are happy. There are almost no need to stop people from rejecting the society of that world, because very few people had any reason to.

        Or just look at the image: http://www.recombinantrecords.net/images/2009-05-Amusing-Ourselves-to-Death.png [recombinantrecords.net]
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          BNWs model kept people in their place by making them so happy there that they would not want to consider rebellion

          The vicious fucking bastards!

    • by lennier (44736)

      Where are the times governments were afraid of their people?

      They are afraid, that's why they're freaking out.

      Possibly what you actually want is a government that isn't afraid of its people, but enjoys a courteous and respectful two-way relationship based on mutal trust and honesty?

    • by mikael (484)

      There were major differences between each vision of the future.

      1984 - The whole world is going to pieces with three major superpowers always forming truces, alliances and then going to war with each other. Information (or propoganda) has become so common that they are desperately trying to control it through NewsSpeak, but the system feeds on and ends up contradicts itself, so the population stops paying attention and the powers in charge get paranoid. Based on what remained of the bombed-out city suburbs i

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        V for Vendetta - Based on life in London under New Labour.

        Interesting, as the comics were originally published in the 1980s at least ten years before New Labour came into power.

  • by s7uar7 (746699) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @05:20AM (#37301450) Homepage
    Is this a new service that ./ is trying? Will the other parties also get their statements posted word for word?
    • by azzy (86427)
      I wouldn't quite describe it as a broadcast, as here you are offering your opinion. /. is giving us the opportunity to debate the 'political statement' and if you have a contrary political position you get to paste it in here word for word in reply. As for why /. is prepared to accept this 'political statement' for publishing, it could be due to its relevance to us 'nerds'. If the way our politicians treat our internet and deal with us as internet users isn't something that 'matters', when what does matter
    • by coolmadsi (823103)

      Is this a new service that ./ is trying? Will the other parties also get their statements posted word for word?

      Quite a lot of article summaries on slashdot are usually a word for word extract from the source (which are often press releases).

  • by Nursie (632944) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @06:37AM (#37301642)

    The UK government folks probably genuinely believe that shutting down social media would be usful to stop waves of criminality like the recent rioting. The fact it hands enormous power to the government is a side effect that they either don't see or (more likely) welcome, but it's not the aim.

    This ranting and posturing about evil people in charge is misguided. The point is that through good intentions both people and government can slide into sinister and easily abused situations. Not that the politicians at the top are already aiming for them.

    This is why the people who notice this stuff must be extra vigilant, because it is all done with semi-good intent, but it takes us to the same bad place.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      The free flow of information is one of the greatest threats to governmental control. They tremble in fear that the mob could actual organize on the fly. If you notice the first thing the Libyan tryrant did was to try to shut down the internet and cell phone access. Government is a necessary evil and that government that governs least is the least evil.

      • by Nursie (632944)

        And if you think that applies to the situation in which the current UK PM suggested shutting down social media, then you've been misinformed.

        Don't get me wrong, the curtailing of communication freedoms is evil, but in this case it's evil done with misguided (mostly) good intent. This (IMHO) makes it all the more dangerous and would make it all the easier for Qadaffi's to take over the UK in the future.

        I don't believe that UK politics is in the stage where communication of the people scares it, I believe the

      • by lennier (44736)

        They tremble in fear that the mob could actual organize on the fly.

        Well, either that or they're doing their job to preserve public order and they noticed that idiots organised not peaceful hippie protests but riots using Facebook, and the evil lazy conservative middle-class population have a funny habit of disliking riots. Very regressive of them, I'm sure.

        Just because somebody is against the government doesn't mean they're actually for anything good. Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is just a jerk.

    • by HalAtWork (926717)
      The ranting and posturing about evil people organizing is misguided too. Shit happens, and you don't choose when you feel the urge. In this case, people don't care about the harm they are doing because they care more about taking advantage of the situation to feed some short term desire. Sounds like that's what the UK government is trying to do as well..
    • Believe me, they're shitting bricks about the interwebs, and not just because of the Copyright issues that their corporate donors have been harping on about. The past 50/60 years has been littered with minor revolutions that have been cracked down on because they were getting out of hand, specifically The Misuse of Drugs Act and The Criminal Justice Act. Both a cover, frankly, for bashing down hippies and other people who thought "Wouldn't it be great if we were all just nice to each other?" movements that

  • Propaganda? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, is /. pushing political parties now?
    Yes, the UK government has problems. But that's no reason to blatantly promote another political party. Even if it aligns with the general opinion of the /. community (and mine).

    • Re:Propaganda? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Andy_R (114137) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @07:37AM (#37301762) Homepage Journal

      Well, I'm no wiser about the submission system policy than you, but I guess that any other party that submitted something coherent and relevant would probably get it featured too. Any pro-Pirate bias probably comes from the fact that we're submitting stuff and the others are not.

      Personally, I'd love to see the other parties engaging with the Slashdot crowd, talking to a well informed non-partisan audience about digital matters could really help them make good decisions on digital (and civil rights) issues.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        I'd love to see the other parties engaging with the Slashdot crowd, talking to a well informed non-partisan audience about digital matters could really help them make good decisions on digital (and civil rights) issues.

        Your second clause bears no logical relaion to the first.

  • by MrNthDegree (2429298) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @07:05AM (#37301700)
    Suggesting shutting down Facebook for an hour or two sounds like the best thing the Conservatives have said/done in a long time... Facebook is as creepy as hell. They keep a lot of data pretty much indefinitely, without a lot of user cooperation and/or DPA requests. Every message ever sent between users, every wall post, every app result/request, GeoIP on logins and EXIF tags from pictures to reveal location at any given point in time, friends "check you in" to places. Even without malicious abuse of Facebook APIs for using all that data to track you (Police app anyone?) the whole thing is as creepy as hell. That and Facebook controls the flow of information quite strictly, there are phrases one can't post on Facebook due to censorship/filtering. It takes a lot of hard work to sanitise a Facebook profile and still have it be usable for all the benefits of social networking. Sure the rest of Conservative policies when it comes to IT and freedom (RIPA, DEA, Terrorism Act) are ghastly but I can't disagree with wanting to shut down Facebook, that is doing the brainwashed masses a favour...
    • Except that the rationale used for shutting down FB and Twitter is exactly the same as the one that would be used to shut down a communication service that is FOSS, respects privacy, has no censorship (you're missing a citation for that, btw - sounds to me you're mistaking reporting pages by the community with actual filtering) and otherwise farts unicorns and lives on rainbows.

      That's the problem here. This is where a slippery slope argument is not a fallacy, but a valid argument: the argument used is one o

  • by Oxygen99 (634999) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @07:37AM (#37301760)
    Heh, Mensch is a loudmouth with only a tangential connection to reality. I wouldn't take what she had to say too seriously. Besides. I don't see why the policy on digital rights should be any less zig-zag and arbitrary than anything else that shower come up with. Cameron, Gove et al have been making up policy on the hoof since they returned to power. This is just one more example of the woeful disconnect between what reality is and what they'd like it to be. Ah well. I guess we all get the politicians we deserve.
  • Being a Democrat or Republican is so 90's. In fact, when it comes to corporate ass kissing, I see very little difference. Either the Democrats are "in charge" and our President can't wait to roll over to the Republicans demands, or the Republicans are and there is one less step in the process loop. I'm tired of all of it.

    I want the Pirate Party! They stand for fairness.

    I know, it's "throwing away my vote" but in reality our county has Diebold electronic voting machines so what I choose is changed to fit "our owners" wishes anyway.

    I'm done!

    • by Timmmm (636430)

      Yeah but have you actually read their manifesto [pirateparty.org.uk]? They have some great articles, and I do support the direction they desire but look at the craziness:

      They want copyright to be 10 years. Yes, the current term is ridiculous, but so is 10 years! To put this in perspective, Windows XP, and the first Lord of the Rings film would now be out of copyright. That seems a little ridiculous. In fact it is even more ridiculous when you consider whether expensive software (CAD, video editing, etc) could compete with their

      • by bky1701 (979071)
        Copyright should not exist at all 10 years is too long for what should be 0 years. Copyright has clearly failed to do what it was originally intended to do - that is, end the patron system. Copyright only solidified it more and turned "art" into a business. Now we have massive, multinational corporations suing both consumers and artists not affiliated with them into submission. All for what? Art was and will be produced without copyright. It always has. It always will be. Copyright is an immoral institution
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          The Romantics are spinning so fast in their graves, we could solve our energy problems just by sticking Victor Hugo's casket in a generator.

          Yes, it's well known that the only money Hugo earned during his lifetime was from selling Quasimodo dolls to McDonalds.

      • by ras (84108)

        Yes, the current term is ridiculous, but so is 10 years!

        The economic argument behind copyright is we get more software, books, movies or whatever because of it. The balance becomes one of making copyright long enough to the producers of works so they an economic incentive return to produce more works, but no so long that they earn money from old works and have no produce not ones. We are after all a society built upon continual incremental improvement of things we have built before. Interfering with some

  • Don't shut them down during riots, monitor them and arrest those leading the riot. Knowledge is power, knowing who and where to arrest to stop a riot is great power. The police are fools not to use this to their advantage.
    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      Don't shut them down during riots, monitor them and arrest those leading the riot.

      In the recent London riots, the police complained they couldn't monitor blackberry messenger, which happens to be popular among chavs here. How would your proposal help at all in this situation when it's not possible to just monitor?

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @01:28PM (#37303092)

    Cameron has no coherent policy on anything.

    He's a PR weenie, 'policy' is determined by whatever will get him the best press at the time.

  • The UK Government's Struggle with basic law and order.

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