First published on Broadband Genie.
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.
Posted: February 18th, 2013
Categories: Political campaigning
, The Internet
Comments: No Comments
First published in City AM.
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.
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.
First published on Conservative Home:
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.
Slowly, we are waking up to the enormous risk to personal privacy posed by the misuse of personal information.
Big Brother Watch’s report into the data protection breaches in the NHS highlighted a number of harrowing individual cases. However, the wider cultural question is the one which should be of greatest concern.
In an age when ever more personal information is collected as a matter of routine by both the public and private sector, how that information is held and protected is of critical importance. When that information is of the kind of sensitive details found in medical records, lax attitudes towards confidentiality and privacy are unacceptable.
Despite the much publicised decision to scrap the last Government’s NHS IT boondoggle, one element was quietly retained – the Summary Care Record.
As highlighted by our report ‘Broken Records’, this system will allow more than 100,000 non-medical staff access to patient information, with no requirement or check that they have any need to see the contents of a record.
There are clear steps that can be taken. Proper audit trails of who accesses records – assigned to individuals, not terminals – will add accountability, and much more robust training about the importance of privacy.
This kind of measures will help develop a more rigorous and respectful culture around personal information. Equally important is the work being done by a range of groups to highlight the incidents that would otherwise go unreported and to keep up the pressure for more attention to be paid to the problem.
Furthermore, there are two fundamental changes that are of a more serious nature. Firstly, infringing the privacy of someone – be they a patient, customer or marketing database entry – should be treated far more seriously. Verbal warnings and counselling appear frequently in the research we conduct, and only in a small proportion is employment terminated.
Secondly, the penalties under the Data Protection Act are clearly inadequate. The corporate penalty is of insignificance to the large organisations that hold the most information, while individuals are likely to escape with a small fine.
There is also a broader question that should be asked much more frequently – how much information is needed to provide the service in the first place? Big Brother Watch will be talking much more in future about the tendency of organisations in both the public and private sector to harvest as much information as possible. Simply, the greater the volume of information held, the greater the risk to our privacy.
There is one final, legislative step that requires urgent attention. The Justice Select Committee was the latest body to call for prison sentences to be available to judges presiding over cases involving breaches of the Data Protection Act, a move Big Brother Watch had previously said is much needed along with the Information Commissioner.
This power has already been legislated; however it remains to be enacted.
If the Coalition is serious about civil liberties and protecting privacy, delaying further on giving courts the tools to protect our personal information is unforgivable.
Europe may be back, but why is it even on the radar? Because there’s a vacuum at the heart of Government, and at the heart of the Conservative Party.
A rebellion is far more likely when there’s nothing for your supporters to rally behind. So it is even more worrying that the leadership of the Conservative party has had no detail, no vision, to offer backbench MPs and party activists on an issue that was always going to come up.
The crisis in the Eurozone has been on the agenda for so long now it is amazing how surprised Downing Street seems to have been taken by the whole thing. I have yet to hear a single clear policy objective from the Government, the main narrative has been about membership of the EU and the danger of withdrawal.
If you offer a vision, a way forward, then you can make the case for rejecting a course of action that would undermine your objective. That is why detail matters on what a Conservative government would do, if the Lib Dems are the issue, or alternatively what the Coalition will do at a treaty change.
Simply, because nobody knows what the Coalition wants to see from Europe - or indeed what a Conservative government would want to do - the only course of action available is what has been put infront of the house today. The underlying reason will not be dealt with by political discipline, and indeed does nothing to address the clear public concern on the issue.
David Cameron should have come to the house today with a clear plan of what he would do in the coming months, and offered leadership.
In arguing against change - rather than in favour of his own vision - he only added fuel to the fire and drove his MPs to rebellion.
Today, David Cameron had this to say to Parliament on the role of technology in the recent riots:
“Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.
“So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality. I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.”
It is a sad indictment of how poorly technology is understood in Government that this even made it into the statement. Aside from the fact that Blackberry Messenger is not a social network, the Whitehall response of blaming social media and BBM for the riots is only made worse by their proposed solution - let us see everything, or shut it down.
It’s a further sign of how inadequate the police’s intelligence gathering remains when so much of the discussion between those involved in the disorder took place in public forums.
To shut down social networking would require both shutting down the internet and mobile phone comms. Whether that is even possible, and ignoring the enormous economic impact it would have, the fact it is being considered should send a chill wind through the whole country.
Civil unrest - and indeed wars between nations - began, and were organised, long before modern technology. Technology facilitates faster action, but the underlying issues remain the same.
William Hague’s interview with Andrew Marr during the uprisings in Egypt offer an alternative viewpoint, which was clearly illustrated in a subsequent statement.
“The abuse of internet and mobile networks and, in particular, today’s increased intimidation and harassment of journalists, are unacceptable and disturbing.”
55.1% - Share of vote secured by the Coaltion
“The Coalition has no democratic mandate” - PCS Union
19.8 % - Proportion of PCS members voting to strike
“clear majority in favour of a strike” - Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union.
Concerted union effort to block the Government’s plans to restore the country’s finances to good health - and address a huge black hole in public sector pensions - is justifiable if that is what union members want. When less than one in five union members vote to strike, that is not the same as what union members want.
The time has come to seriously ask whether a few union barons - raking in salaries higher than the PM - are really acting in the best interests of their members or whether they are rallying a hardline minority for personal and petty political reasons.
The time has come for union ballots - like those at company AGMs and voluntary bodies - to have a minimum turnout to be quorate.
This Thursday, the country goes to the polls to decide whether or not it would like to change the voting system. (Although sadly it won’t be asked to do so by ranking preferences.)
The campaign has been hard fought, and not always in the best spirit. While I’ve found the Yes camp’s celebrity tactics quite laughable, I also though the No camp’s decision to include the cost of the referendum itself in their £250m ‘cost of AV’ campaign pretty dubious. (Not to mention rolling out Ross Kemp after slating the celeb strategy!)
Today, the Spectator is reporting Chris Hune has now taken his grievances about the ‘No’ campaign to the cabinet table, after his absence last week. Some tittle tattle has suggested that if the vote does return (as I think it’s fair to say, is now expeced) a ‘No’ then Hune would ditch his cabinet post, challenge Clegg for the Leadership of the Lib Dems and then take the party out of Coalition if he succeeded. That would most likely mean another election, much earlier than anyone is planning.
Do I think it’s a realistic prospect? No. Here are a few reasons that I think the coalition is safe for a long time to come yet - with Nick Clegg at the heart of it.
- The Lib Dems are in Government. Yes, it’s doing unpopular things but as most polls show, the bulk of the voting public who would ever fall into the ‘lib dem target’ category broadly support the coalition. Hune would essentially be kicking his leadership bid off by saying ‘Have your last breakfast in Government, then go back to your constituency surgeries.’
- Would Hune really beat Clegg? I doubt it. Not only did Hune look very petty over the ‘Calamity Clegg’ briefing document in 2006, he only managed runner-up against Menzies Campbell in that contest and only 10 MPs backed his campaign in 2007.
- Less than one year ago (June 2010) Hune announced that he was having an affair and left his wife (of 26 years) and three kids as a result of being caught out by the press. It followed an election campaign when he had played the family card pretty heavily -as he did in the Lib Dem leadership contest.
- Expenses - Hune not only claimed for a picture of himself to be framed (£85.35) but also a trouser press, which you may remember he claimed live on Channel 4 that he needed ‘to look smart for work’.
- Boundary changes - its in the best interest of both the Tories and Lib Dems that the boundary changes go ahead - and they won’t be ready for at least another year.
- Nobody wants an early election - the debate (saving any major incidents of a pretty huge scale) will be focused on the economy - and the Osborne/Alexander (and probably Laws) plan delivers a feel good factor towards the end of the Parliament. No goverment wants to go to the polls with the ‘zero percent growth’ tagline anywhere near the debate.
Finally - it’s worth noting that the man with knife in his hands rarely emerges victorious. Huhne has started to look petty and disrespectful, leaving Cable and Laws in the wings. Or, as it may be, Jeremy Browne or Paul Burstow - the other two Lib Dem Ministers who may have enjoyed their taste of Government.
If there is a No vote, Huhne should resign and declare his intentions or make a very clear statement to the effect that he is now back on board with the coaltion. Then the question be for Clegg - does he trust him enough to be?
Morley and Outwood was undoubtedly one of the highest profile battlegrounds of the 2010 general election. Antony Calvert put up a sterling fight to turn a nominally safe Labour seat into a tight marginal with a majority of little more than 1,000. Not bad to say he barely had a fourteen months as candidate, compared to the four years many people enjoyed in some target seats.
One thing that did raise eyebrows was Ed Balls’ speech upon being declared the winner. Rather than recognise his narrow escape and pay tribute to his opponents, Balls went off on one, telling the assembled media and public that he wanted to send a message to the Tory campaign: “You can come along with all your posters, and all your leaflets, and all your advertising, but you cannot buy this constituency”
Figures now released tell another story - Ed Balls was the highest spending candidate in the seat.
He spent £26,659 to Calvert’s £24,911. And that doesn’t include the office funded by his union friends or the Parliamentary communications allowance he received as a sitting MP. (While his old constituency of Normanton was abolished, 2 of the wards in it remained in the new Morley & Outwood seat.)
Also, if anyone’s interested, my opponent Yvette Cooper spent £10,831 on her election campaign - roughly £5,000 more than me. (I came in at £5,761)
She nearly doubled my campaign spend, I nearly halved her majority. Who said the public don’t read election literature?!