How democratic is the digital space? If this was to pass, the answer could be “not at all.”
Today, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a “bill of rights” for his Digital Democracy Manifesto. This plays a key part in his strategy towards a resurgence of the Labour party.
So I’ve taken a look through it, because for all the bravado of a digital revolution in Britain, it’s never really arrived.
Besides updates to copyright laws and studies saying we deserve better internet access, the internet itself has remained largely unaddressed by the politics system of today – floundering in the peripheral vision of the party digital marketing plans and a way to “get to the youth.”
And while it’s all well and good addressing the digital future of Britain, some of these do raise some scary questions. But let’s get the obvious question out the way first.
So what the hell is a #DigitalDemocracy?
it’s what the British public has deserved since the dawn of the internet 25 years ago
It’s the promise of working with telecoms companies (with a cash injection from the National Investment Bank) to provide “high speed broadband and mobile connectivity” for every household and business.
With an “Open Knowledge Library,” everyone will have a free-to-use hub of learning resources that start from nursery all the way up to university-level – a big bump for education.
He also promises a reform on “the laws of intellectual property so that both producers and consumers benefit.”
And beyond this, British citizens will have the comfort of knowing they can speak freely amongst the “diversity of opinion” over these networks – introducing a “digital passport” for people to use
Sounds good… What’s the problem?
Well, the problems lie in the intricacies of how this is going to work and the power players behind each one. What could be seen as positive power for the people, may well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I may just be a “glass half empty” kind of guy here, of course. But that bit is up to you… Allow me to pose some questions for you
1. Should access to the internet still be ran through “telecoms companies?”
No, this is not me waging war against all those hours various ISPs have left me on hold.
But if you wish to truly democratise the internet for all, is the idea of using a bank (with its own agenda) to pay a telecoms company (with its own agenda) enough money to do so really the answer?
2. Will an “Open Knowledge Library” reduce the effectiveness of education?
As a frequent user of iTunes U, I know the benefit and sheer enjoyment of listening to lectures in exciting subjects you wished you took – so I hope to be proven wrong.
BUT, would allowing younger students access to this material online confuse or even reduce the impact of a teacher?
Teachers provide the invaluable service of being the intermediary between points of learning and making them digestible for students.
What happens when you take the Teacher bit out of that equation – even if it’s for just the online portion?
3. How “diverse” is the “diversity of opinion?”
An element of this will be self-policing. If your opinions are communicated through a “digital passport,” then you’re not going to tell people to kill themselves on Twitter anymore (a solid win right there). But how far could this policing go? For every left, there is a right – and they build towards an agreeable compromise that benefits all involved. Will this continue in the digital space, or will voices against a particular agenda be “policed” out of the conversation? This is the manifesto of a party after all…
4. How will “digital passports” be protected?
The “Digital Citizen Passport” is used for interacting with public services such as health, welfare, education and housing.
It can also be used as a network “intermediary with commercial providers of tangible or virtual goods.” It’s an online profile of your personal identity – which could contain info that reaches far beyond the levels of info on your Facebook or Twitter…
Call me old fashioned, but that does make me nervous – what happens if a flaw is found in the security?
Yes, I know you’re putting “strict laws” in place if this does happen, but when has that ever stopped a hacker?
And I know you’re clear in making it a “voluntary scheme,” but how far down will that be on the list of forceful selling points, pushing you to sign up? Will those ISPs you paid for require a login with a digital passport to access the services?
What about in public spaces – will they require passport authentication? There could be the real risk that people are forced into digital citizenship, and if data is accessed then God knows what happens.
Okay, please stop terrifying me… What happens next?
My apologies, I didn’t mean to scare you with any of that. These are merely questions that can be asked based on the information given.
We’ve only seen the bare bones of a manifesto. More information is needed.
At that point, better opinions can be formed.
I, for one, hope that many of these ideas for “digital democracy” do become a reality.
There are some genuinely good ideas here that, if executed properly, would revolutionise this country and its relationship with the internet.
But the warning signals are there, Mr Corbyn. Here’s hoping your party knows how to avoid them.