However you look at the issue of childhood obesity, one issue is abundantly clear – young people spend less time outside than previous generations.
One argument for this is what has become known as ‘stranger danger’ and the fear of parents to allow children outside for fear of them coming to harm.
As the journalist Steve Humphries wrote about his documentary into the issue in 2009, when comparing previous generations’ freedom to play outside; “Sadly this world of independent child’s play has today largely vanished. One of the important reasons for this decline is the inexorable rise of stranger danger and child abduction in modern Britain.”
As Humphries highlighted, the number of cases involving child molestation and molestation remained very small”, with road traffic accidents a much greater risk, an issue exacerbated by the number of parents who drove children to school for fear of other threats to their children.
You might be wondering what on earth this has to do with the internet. Well, so was I, until my Blackberry buzzed last Monday morning with the first (inevitable) PR exercise aimed to garner coverage for Safer Internet Day 2013.
As with most awareness days, the organisations involved try to concoct various ways to boost coverage and this year was no different. That age old PR tool (which I have shamelessly used myself on numerous occasions) of new “research” being published, alongside a quote promising impending doom, was provided by the NSPCC.
Claire Lilley, from the NSPCC, said: “Young people tell us they are experiencing all sorts of new forms of abuse on a scale never before seen. It’s now clear that we are facing an e-safety timebomb, with this being one of the biggest child protection issues of our time.”
I am not going to claim I’ve never given an overly strong quote to boost coverage, so I feel fairly comfortable calling out faux-outrage when I see it. Why? The explanation came in the next paragraph detailing the research.
“More than two in five (41%) of those aged 11 to 19, and over a quarter (27%) of those aged seven to 11 have seen something online in the past 12 months that they found hurtful or unpleasant.”
So less than half of kids have seen something “hurtful or unpleasant” yet that constitutes “abuse on a scale never seen before.” ?
It may not be as recently as I’d like, but I was young once and my definition of what I found “hurtful and unpleasant” basically covered every conversation with a girl I had for several years. Abuse it was not.
We need a rational debate about the threats online or we risk exactly the same social disaster we now see after kids stopped playing outside. It was with this in mind that I was most pleased to see the (much less widely reported) intervention from the Information Commissioner, who called for young people to be educated about the privacy implications of digital life.
Rather than “nagging” kids, we need a different approach. “Just as we teach citizenship in schools, you need to teach the importance of information rights,” argued Christopher Graham.
I couldn’t agree more. The internet isn’t a safe place, but nor are many parts of life. The challenge is to come up with a response that is measured, evidence-based and engages the people you are trying to work with.
Digital literacy is not about scaring kids into fearing life online. The internet offers the greatest shift in the acquisition of knowledge and self-expression we’ve experienced since the invention of the printing press, not to mention being the basis of our economy for generations to come.
So, enough of the lazy headlines and let’s find a way to build a digital literacy model that’s fit for modern life and does not repeat the social destruction of stranger danger. Spreading access, teaching e-safety and engaging young people as digital citizens might not be great PR copy, but it will be a step change in e-safety and offer real hope to enhance digital life.
Now is the time for the whole Government to work together, led by a minister whose sole objective is to harnessing the next industrial revolution for the benefit of future generations.
THE Leveson Inquiry will make its long-awaited recommendations on Thursday, and the main expectation is that Lord Leveson will propose putting Britain’s press under statutory regulation. But this is a one-way street towards a British media that is afraid to take on the most powerful voices in the land. That is not what civil society should look like.
Yes, revelations of phone hacking, and the acquisition of personal information – from medical records to bank details – have cast a shadow across the media. But this is, and was at the time, illegal. Indeed, one of the few certainties about Lord Leveson’s report is that it will not propose the creation of any new data protection offences. Everything the inquiry has heard is already covered by the Data Protection Act.
Statutory regulation of the press would similarly do nothing to protect privacy. It makes it no more illegal to hack a phone, or to blag or buy personal information. And a new regulator would not make it easier for any of us to seek redress if our personal information is disclosed without our permission.
Furthermore, those in favour of statutory regulation have failed to address an inherent contradiction in their plan. How exactly are they addressing and fixing a culture where politicians court the media by replacing it with one where the media courts politicians?
In any case, in an age of widespread dissemination of information via the internet, the idea of regulating such a small group of organisations is absurd. The press is already competing with information sources that will presumably stay outside any regulatory structure.
The government should welcome Lord Leveson’s report. But it should then make it clear that legislation is not necessary, emphasising that, as Lord Leveson has heard, it is the failings of the police and the information commissioner’s office that warrant concern and further investigation.
And to truly grapple with the problems that led to the Leveson Inquiry being set up, the government should make clear its acceptance that a custodial sentence should be available to judges sentencing anyone who breaches the Data Protection Act. Journalist or not, such a penalty is a far greater deterrent against anyone obtaining personal information illegally than a new body only concerned with the press.
The media must abide by the law, of course. But it must also be fearless in holding power to account. Even a slight diminishing of its undaunted view of power will bring comfort to those who seek to evade and avoid scrutiny. Every citizen would be worse off.
It would be a step that betrays future generations. Ultimately, the best regulator of all is competition and if the government is looking for an alternative to statutory regulation, a return of media ownership laws, taking into account the digital footprint of publications, would offer a much more reasonable way forward.
Data protection legislation may protect our data locally, but internationally privacy is not just a personal issue, it lies at the heart of ensuring competitive markets.
As the digital revolutions continues to fueled in a large part by advertising spending, a data arms race is emerging, with a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations engaged in a battle to know more about us — and therefore better target adverts — than their competitors.
This race to the bottom, where respecting consumer privacy is an obstacle to greater profit is the stark reality of a digital world where services are free and data is valuable. We are not customers, but a product, to be repackaged and marketed to the highest bidder.
In March this year, perhaps the single most important test for this balance began. Google, in what was purported to be a simplification of their existing product-specific privacy policies, a new, all-encompassing policy was implemented, despite a request from European data protection regulators for more time to assess the impact for consumer privacy.
The silo-walls came down, with a tsunami of information released across Google’s operations. European regulators launched an investigation, working together as the Article 29 Working party.
Last week, 36 global privacy regulators wrote to Google, endorsing a report that found Google “doesn’t respect” European privacy law, is not transparent with users about what it does with their data. Crucially, they warned Google doesn’t give consumers a real choice about how to protect their privacy.
Their concerns are not new — indeed, as we warned when we highlighted that only 12% of people had even read the new policy, it was unlikely those who read it would have understood it. The policy uses eight different terms relating to data and personal information, which are seemingly the same and yet entirely different.
Following the report, I argued that Google was “keeping consumers in the dark” about how much data Google collects about them and what it does with that data. Consumer choice and consent relies on a full understanding of what is going on, and real choice. The Article 29 report highlights that consumers do not have such understanding, or a real choice.
The challenge going forward is not just how to protect privacy, but how to protect that choice. What use is a detailed understanding of a service’s data collection if it’s the only service to choose from?
Last week’s letter details how Google currently controls 90% of the search market in Europe and around 50% of the smartphone operating system market. Combine that with details on billions of YouTube views, Gmails, websites visited where analytics software is installed and the full suite of Google services and you have an incredible wealth of data.
If more data means higher profits, or simply holding your own in the face of aggressive competitors, how do we protect privacy? By ensuring properly competitive markets. If data protection regulators cannot stop the collection of vast amounts of data — a test failed long ago — then competition regulators must step up to protect consumers. Limiting data collection and processing prevents one firm reaching the position where privacy regulator action becomes a cost of doing business, a price for staying on top.
Perhaps this is why we have seen so many arguably deliberate accidents in recent years at Google, from the illegal collection of Wi-Fi data from StreetView cars (and subsequent failure to delete all the data) to the Safari spying that saw iPhone users who had taken action to prevent tracking being tracked. The latter resulted in a $22.50 fine after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that Google had written code to deliberately evade the privacy protections in Apple’s Safari Web browser, only a year after having signed an agreement with the same body to improve its privacy practices.
The test isn’t just whether one company knows more about us than another — it goes far broader than that. As our digital footprints grow exponentially, from the location data of our mobile phones to the videos we watch online, shopping habits to social media posts, we are gradually surrendering ownership of our identities.
The digital marketplace is already maturing, with the emergence of business models less dependent on advertising and privacy becoming a competitive advantage for some companies. The market is changing, but how can anyone compete in a marketplace dominated by Google — the price of playing by the rules in a marketplace where one company can afford to set their own rules may well be total failure.
If the Internet is to become the next industrial revolution, it must not be built on the backs of a generation who never had a choice about how much personal information they handed over. The potential for a competitive, privacy-aware market to enhance innovation and empower consumers is too great an opportunity to miss.
The issue of ‘rights grab’ contracts is one I’ve blogged about before, and the issue doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
In essence they are contracts that you sign to photograph a band and as a condition of that contract you transfer your copyright to the artist, often without limitation. A milder version is where the contract requires you to license your work for free, while you retain the copyright. Not a huge difference in practice - the root of it is they get to use your work for free.
Recently several festivals have started having their own photographer agreements, mostly about only shooting for one publication and not papping anyone. Nothing too controversial there - however, it seems some events are taking them further.
Anyone wanting to photograph Bradford Council’s Bingley Live has to agree to the following:
” 7. I agree to forward to the Bingley Music Live organisers a copy of all photographs taken by my organisation at Bingley Music Live 2012. Images to be supplied in JPEG format and at not less than 300 dpi
“8. Photographers retain the copyright of all images and grant Bingley Music Live festival license to use the provided images for promotional purposes”
Not quite a full rights grab, but should a publicly funded body really be conducting itself in such a way?
For anyone shooting it, and with my legal hat on, the contract specifies the resolution of the image, but not the width…
The security company in the headlines this weekend may be G4S, but the wider question of whether the military-security establishment has sought to benefit from exploiting the public’s fears about their safety has been brushed under the carpet by politicians who have been equally culpable of the same manipulation.
After 9/11, New Labour subjected the public to regular warnings that an attack was imminent and that we had to trust the Government to make decisions about how our liberty should be protected.
Every decision, every argument, was framed in the context of national security and terror. Ian Huntley and Osama bin Laden became poster boys for a generation of operatives who saw fear as their most successful lobbying tool. Those who opposed increasingly authoritarian policies – from 90-day detention to ID cards – were caricatured as appeasers, not to be trusted or taken seriously.
The invasion of Iraq was pursued on the pretext of protecting British and American national security. Weapons of mass destruction, capable of being launched in 45 minutes, may have turned out to be a work of fiction, but the political advantages and commercial benefits enjoyed by those involved were all too real.
The Blair government may be long gone, but read Home Office press releases and you’d struggle to tell the difference. Even the modest proposal to require local authority officials to seek a court warrant before they enter your home – as contained in the Conservative manifesto – was casually punted into the long grass by way of a two-year review.
From the watering down of proposals to destroy innocent people’s DNA held by the police to the devolution of police powers to civilians, including private security contractors, the impression given is that it is officials schooled by New Labour, not ministers, who are making decisions about which liberties are expendable.
Where does this demand for security come from? Why is it that the people offering services to protect the public are often lobbying publicly and privately about the need for greater investment in security infrastructure. The security industry has managed to co-opt the political class as both their main proponent and their biggest customer.
Fear breeds invention, as the saying goes. And the security industry has been busy inventing – and selling. Walk round any security conference and you’ll be greeted by the kind of glitzy marketing and promotion you might expect at a Formula One event. If marketing is about finding potential customers and then creating demand for your product, the security industry is rapidly becoming a textbook example of how to get rich quick without ever having to test your assumptions.
Since 9/11 an entire industry has sprung up offering services for screening passengers; thousands of body scanners have been installed worldwide; and governments have called for more security staff on planes. These vested interests are not only a commercial force. Civil servants are more than ever using the fear of terrorism and the need to “secure” our borders/children/property/energy to further their own interests.
When David Davis MP coined the term “securocrat”, he illustrated the ability of Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister to hide empire-building behind warnings of the sky falling in. Present events neatly demonstrate how effective this can be. At a time of swingeing government spending cuts, the Home Office has secured £1.8bn for its Communications Capabilities Directorate, the 120-strong team responsible for the draft Communications Data Bill.
Those expecting to know how this money will be spent will be disappointed. Question accountability, feasibility or budgets and you will be told all is in hand, as we once were with the NHS IT project, countless Ministry of Defence sagas and the cost of the Olympics. The Communications Capabilities Development Programme is set to become the first democratic government policy to force communications providers to monitor their customers, and also the first government IT project to come in on budget and work exactly as planned.
Yes, we need to be vigilant, but if we pursue policies that inhibit civil liberties in the short term, we put at risk the same freedoms we are seeking to defend. Not only have we created a climate of fear, we have allowed those with a vested interest to control the debate. Now is the time to challenge those who seek to profit from fear.
Hysterical arguments about paedophiles and terrorists demean both the public and the institutions we trust to keep us safe. Defending the realm means defending the values that have made this country not just a prosperous one but a beacon of liberty that has, and must, shine brightly.
The achievements of the future will not be made possible by more sacrifices of freedoms, but by a willingness to act proportionately in the face of risk. Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction, Ronald Reagan once said. Let us not be the generation that fails to speak up.
Technology may be changing, but should be moving further away from the basic principles of a democratic society as a result?
On the one hand, it’s argued this is an essential tool needed to protect national security. So surely the Government should have moved to ensure it is in place before the Olympics?
On the other hand, today it has been presented as a tweak to existing laws, updating them to reflect modern communications. Strange then that a technical legislative revision is being given prime billing in the Queen’s speech.
The Home Secretary and her ministers have been invisible, either incapable or unwilling to defend a policy that has caused concern and dismay from ordinary members of the public and civil liberties campaigners alike.
Many will be surprised that a Government supposedly committed to protecting civil liberties is discussing policies it branded as unacceptable when Labour were in power. Unfortunately, this is the latest such area of policy where the Home Office is presiding over such a U-Turn, following broken promises over the DNA Database and the powers officials have to enter our homes.
Indeed, we still do not know the full detail of the proposals, forced to rely on snippets leaked to newspapers or briefed out by concerned civil servants. While the Government believes if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear, it seems that does not apply to their own policies. What we do know is that not only does this involve more data being retained, but ‘black boxes’ run by the security services being installed onto networks. Given that Google last year refused 37% of the applications made to it for user data, how will any check or balance operate when we have allowed the spooks to build a back-door into our communications networks.
The plans also carry an economic cost. The cost to businesses of storing vast quantities of data is not insignificant, while start-up companies may regard the burden as simply too great to bear, taking their innovation and jobs elsewhere.
Equally, service providers will be hit with new costs at a time when they are also being asked to invest in new, high-speed fibre optic and under this scheme, the greater the volume of data they carry, the greater the cost to their business. Investment, innovation and growth will all suffer.
Finally, it is far from clear that the policy will actually improve public safety, with serious threats driven underground and technical evasion becoming common place. Given the importance of encryption and private networks to ensuring data protection, it is unclear how this policy with deal with legitimate and necessary – and legal – measures to protect the privacy of communications.
While it is important to keep pace with internet connections arguably the most pressing issue for our security is the continued availability of unregistered, pre-pay mobile phones. As recognised in the 7/7 Inquest, increased surveillance does not automatically yield better results, and the way these ‘operational’ phones were used was found to render enhanced surveillance of little use in preventing the attack.
There is also the potential of a ‘honey pot’ effect, with foreign governments and malicious individuals focusing their energy on gaining sight of the data collected. Privacy and security do indeed go hand in hand.
Britain is already one of the most spied on countries off-line and this is a shameful attempt to watch everything we do online in the same way. The vast quantities of data that would be collected would arguably make it harder for the security services to find threats before a crime is committed, and involve a wholesale invasion of all our privacy online that is hugely disproportionate and wholly unnecessary.
Freedom of speech and association requires the ability to communicate in private. Logging who you are talking to, when, for how long and where is the kind of monitoring that chills freedoms, not defends them.
In a democratic society, it is not for innocent civilians to justify why the Government should not spy on them.
I’ve been working in the music industry for the best part of a decade and the animosity that remains towards our party is not dissimilar to the reaction I faced when I was our candidate in Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. I’d spent my whole life there and yet overnight some people I’d played football with as a teenager or worked with in local pubs simply stopped talking to me.
We assume at our peril this is a superficial problem, a relic of a bygone political age. Noel Gallagher’s interview in the Mail on Sunday has been lauded by some as ‘proof’ that Lady Thatcher’s detractors in the North are misguided. Yet it poses a far more complicated question that should remind us why we are a long way from being a viable electoral force in the North, in Scotland and in many urban areas across the country. When those who agree with us would still rather vote for a pirate than vote Conservative, what are we doing to change this?
I grew up in an environment where the main argument about money was that the state took too much. Yes, most Yorkshire folk will generally complain about the price of everything, but the price of Government was an unavoidable part of the political debate.
How could people provide for their families when the state took more and more of your wage? The impetus of low taxes was that if you put the effort in, you would be rewarded. The state wouldn’t get in the way, and you could get on. We won’t force you to work, but don’t complain that those who graft are rewarded more than you.
Work was a noble endeavour, to be respected irrespective of the reward. When the reward for work becomes disconnected from the effort required, you get riots and you get Fred Goodwin.
Then in 1997 the terms of debate changed. Rather than people complaining that they were taxed too much, the Labour party made the debate about people not receiving enough back in benefits. The middle classes came to rely on – and arguably expect – benefits in a way that Thatcher never allowed. It is this cultural shift that now means someone like Noel Gallagher feels the Labour party no longer represents him.That single change did more to keep Labour in power and created the payroll vote that was a very real political consequence of the gargantuan welfare state. No longer a safety net, but a fact of life for three out of every four families.
We as a party have still not challenged this notion. Universal benefits remain a concept that defy logic, but are still a part of the ‘too risky’ policy pile.
The Universal credit will do much to address the administration of benefits, reducing administrative cost, but the terms of debate remain as they were in 1997. We have argued that the welfare bill was too high, but when was the last time we made the argument that lower taxes were the way to encourage work?
More than that, when it comes to Europe, immigration, crime, school discipline and countless other policy areas, people with ‘working class’ backgrounds are absolutely more Conservative than some of the more liberal areas we regard as ‘safe.’ And still they do not vote for us.
In failing to recognise that this barrier to electoral success is more than simply about being seen as a ‘nice’ party and everything to do with how we are not trusted to both reward work and protect the interests of those who work, we do not offer a viable alternative to the thousands of Labour voters who turned out in 2010 and voted for Gordon Brown, but did so reluctantly.
If we accept that the terms of debate are about how much the state should distribute, and that it is easier – and involves fewer policy risks - to win three seats in the south east than ten in the North, then we will never break out of the thirty-something percent bracket. Relying on the unpopularity of our opponents is not a strategy for victory, but a tactic to mitigate the risk of defeat.
Nothing we have done has planted the flag in the North and represented a rallying cry for disillusioned Labour voters. Taking people out of the tax system altogether does not foster responsibility, it perpetuates the same ‘something for nothing’ culture that Labour voters are passionately rejecting. Contribution, however small, shares the burden of social ownership in a way that builds communities.
We have the opportunity to redefine the political landscape that not only offers people like Noel Gallagher a viable alternative, but a social imperative to vote Conservative. To do that requires bold policies and speaking to the values that working people hold true, not just those who voted Conservative in 2010. It absolutely means taking risks.
This cannot – and must not be allowed to – take three years and the selection of candidates. We are in Government, so let us lead the debate.
With a perfect storm of security, child protection and sexualisation and copyright enforcement we may be sleepwalking into the end of freedom online as we know it.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) may sound like something you definitely don’t want to hear your GP say, but the reality is arguably far worse.
The legal action against file sharing site Newzbin2 was the first large-scale legal action of its kind, and resulted in a legal order mandating BT to block its customers from accessing the site.
There are various ways of achieving this, from simply blocking the web address to more complex technical methods. But the question of key concern is whether BT should be able to inspect everything you see and do online to ensure that you’re not looking at a website.
In other words, is the price for copyright enforcement our privacy?
According to the Honourable Mr Justice Arnold, BT not only should be able to see every detail of what we do online, but the court expects it to look.
In section 6 of his ruling of the 26 October, Arnold says BT’s Cleanfeed technology should be used to stop users accessing the site, believing Cleanfeed involves “a two-stage system of IP address re-routing and DPI-based URL blocking.”
In human-speak, this means looking at the digital address of the website you want to look at, not just the www name, but also that BT should look at the individual ‘packets’ of data your PC transmits to make absolutely sure you’re not looking at that website. To use a well-worn analogy, it’s like the Royal Mail opening every letter you write to check one of them doesn’t include a copied CD.
Let’s be clear, there is no law, and this court order does not make it illegal, to view the contents of Newzbin2. Cleanfeed was developed to block images and sites connected to child abuse, and it’s suitability for this kind of enforcement is far from clear.
It’s also unlawful in the UK for a private company to intercept communications without the prior consent of both the sender and recipient. So, it would appear a UK judge has just ordered BT to break the criminal law, in the name of copyright enforcement – which remains a civil matter.
This kind of uncertainty and contradiction is not new; it has been at the heart of policy formulation in the UK for several years, and is evident in the hand-wringing around the Digital Economy Act and its enforcement.
However, this ruling does have a wider impact - it brings into question the way in which individual privacy is protected online and the regard with which it is held.
It should not be forgotten that no UK regulator took action against BT when it used deep packet inspection as part of its advertising business development. The UK’s attitude to privacy online has been one of a badly blurred human right, a data protection regime created before Google existed and mismatched legislation that authorises investigations into suspected terrorists.
There is little discussion of how online privacy can be protected, with most of the debate focused on whether privacy comes at too great a cost to society. This cannot be a healthy situation for a society that is democratic.
As the legal question of protecting intellectual property and enforcing the criminal law becomes blurred with the moral questions posed by the likes of Claire Perry, the future of British access – private access – to a free internet becomes ever less certain.
This week, the great and the good of the internet world gathered in London to discuss the impending doom that an explosion in cybercrime entails.
Yet perhaps the greatest threat lies from within, and with a perfect storm of security, child protection and sexualisation and copyright enforcement we may be sleepwalking into the end of freedom online as we know it.
An interesting (and very entertaining judging by the reviews) take on Sir Stuart Bell - aka Britain’s laziest MP and the man who doesn’t see the point in constituency surgeries.
BAFTA nominated film-maker and Labour voter John Walsh was selected as the Conservative Candidate to take on Bell during the general election. According to Walsh, what he uncovers is a place where intimidation and neglect have scarred a town that politics has forgotten.
You can catch the film on Monday nightat the Frontline club (by Paddington Tube), at 7pm. Details here.