Playing Pol-IT-ics

As we gear up for another election next week, we thought it’s worth taking a look at what each of the main 3 parties are proposing from a digital standpoint. First here’s a list of policies from the respective manifestos:

Conservatives:

  • For broadband customers, we will make broadband switching easier and pricing more transparent.
  • The Universal Service Obligation will ensure that by 2020 every home and every business in Britain has access to high speed broadband (set at 10mbps).
  • We will work with industry to introduce new protections for minors, from images of pornography, violence, and other age-inappropriate content not just on social media but in app stores and content sites as well
  • We do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.
  • We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data, and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.
  • We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks.
  • We will further strengthen cyber security standards for government and public services, requiring all public services to follow the most up to date cyber security techniques appropriate
  • We shall roll out Verify, so that people can identify themselves on all government online services by 2020, using their own secure data that is not held by government. We will also make this platform more widely available, so that people can safely verify their identify to access non-government services such as banking.

Labour:

  • We will deliver universal superfast broadband availability by 2022.
  • On day one we will instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll out “ultrafast” 3000bps across the country within the next decade.

Liberal Democrats:

  • A programme of installing hyperfast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK.
  • Invest to ensure that broadband connections and services to be provided before 2020 have a speed of 2 Gbps or more, with fibre to the premises (FTTP) as standard and unlimited usage by 2020 across the whole of the UK. SMEs should be prioritised in the roll-out of hyperfast broadband.
  • Roll back state surveillance powers by ending the indiscriminate bulk collection of communications data, bulk hacking, and the collection of internet connection records.
  • Introduce a digital bill of rights that protects people’s powers over their own information, supports individuals over large corporations, and preserves the neutrality of the internet.
  • Support free media and a free and open internet around the world, championing the free flow of information.

Analysis

Starting with similarities between the manifestos, they all address something that affects all of us – broadband speed. While the specifics differ, the general tone from all parties is that they will continue to legislate to improve and upgrade the current network. The feasibility of achieving this will largely depend on whether BT has the ability and / or the incentive to do this.

Now onto the differences. In the case of Labour, the differences are pretty much everything else, as their manifesto is very light on IT specific commitments. This is largely true of the Liberal Democrats too. However, the policy to roll back state surveillance powers is a potentially important one. We’ve covered this issue in a previous article.

This just leaves the Conservatives. Many of the policies here hit on an issue that any party has with IT – trying to legislate nationally on an international network.

It may prove difficult to get the likes of Facebook, Twitter et al to comply with any nation’s policies (with the possible exception of the US). If they start changing to comply with the laws of one country, then that will cause other countries to start requesting their own customisations. This would become unmanageable very quickly from a technical perspective. The government can certainly appeal to the social media giants to add the ability to delete everything they store on a person as they hit 18, but there’s no way this can be guaranteed.

Also of note here is the intention to stop terrorists communicating securely online. This one is a giant can of worms. Obviously, if this were possible in isolation, then there is nothing contentious about this at all. However, there is no way to only apply this to terrorists. “Fine”, you may say. “I have nothing to hide”. This is also a perfectly valid response if it were technically possible to achieve this aim in relation to messaging, which is what is proposed here.

Unfortunately, the thing that enables terrorists to communicate secretly online is also the thing allows your bank details to be transferred securely over the internet – encryption. Encryption is either secure or it isn’t. There’s no halfway house. If there’s a backdoor intended for whoever we “trust” to police the internet, it will be exploited by people we don’t trust.

Not only that, if this policy was followed through, the terrorists would just find another way of hiding their communications, and we would just be left with a broken encryption system without even the gain of the thing it was supposed to prevent.

Whatever the makeup of parliament next week, any government needs to take steps to improve their own digital literacy. It is very clear from interviews with government officials on things like encryption and the fallout from the issues with the NHS systems a couple of weeks ago that there’s a failing here. There needs to be someone at a high level of government that is given the responsibility of understanding the digital world, and then being able to relay the proposed response effectively to the public.

This is by no means a party specific problem. It has long been the case that any debate in parliament about IT issues has been filled with nonsense that misunderstands how the internet works on a fundamental level from all sides. Until this is rectified, parliament will continue to exist in the digital dark ages.

Like it or not, IT is now an integral part of almost every aspect of our lives, even for those that try and keep use to a minimum personally. It cannot continue to remain an afterthought. We’re seeing the ramifications of this in the news on an almost weekly basis now. We covered this last month in our “Price of no progress” article (which foresaw an event like NHS ransomware attack two weeks before it happened). Those that thrive in the modern age will be those that adopt an IT-first approach – both on a national and business level.

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