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.
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.
The UK Government is currently considering the possibility of a UK-wide firewall, which (simply put) would give the Government the ability to block access to websites from the UK.
The argument has mainly been made around file-sharing sites, and to a lesser extent child pornography, and of course the Government insists that it would never be used for political reasons.
Yet the example of the Arab Spring and the subsequent activities of Governments in shutting down social networking sites (or more disturbingly, setting up spoof sites to entrap potential trouble makers) should not be forgotten.
It is entirely possible that as part of the super-injunction/privacy debate that website blocking could potentially be on the cards - neatly demonstrated by the High Court judge who warned “the internet is out of control.”
The internet is beyond the reach of Governments. So the natural response of Governments is to seek to bring it back under their control. The first step is to block sites sharing illegal music. That path leads to not being able to read about Tienanmen Square or organise demonstrations - it is not one that a civil society should permit.
However, there is a further option - for social networks to become ISPs.
The power of a shared satellite network, providing internet access to users without reliance on physical cable under the control of Governments, would have the potential to topple the Great Firewall of China, free protestors to organise demonstrations and globalise free speech beyond the reach of overactive judiciaries.
Eventually, universal internet access will be a humanitarian cause. What it needs is someone to take the first step, and aim for the stars.
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?!
For once, combining my love of live music and politics isn’t a confusing link thanks to Mike Weatherley MP!
The recently launched Rock the house competition is combining an awareness campaign about intellectual property (and, I’m very pleased to add, is going about this in a far more sensible way than the Digital Economy Act and is not simply buying into the major label spin) with a search for the best live bands, and - for it is far too often forgotten - the best live music venues.
I’m delighted to be involved as, yes, a ‘prize’ - I’ll be donating my music photographer services to produce some tip-top photography of the winners.
The winning band also get to perform in Parliament, along with a host of other great prizes.
Let’s see which MPs are the biggest champions of live music and hopefully, willing to look beyond piracy headlines as part of the debate about IP and copyright protection.
Alan McGee is not known for being shy of a good soundbite. Then again, he’s also not immune to being entirely wrong - this is the man who signed One Lady Owner, Technique, Ultra Living and Toaster to Creation, lest we forget.
His latest outburst was to proclaim “illegal downloading is murdering the music business” on an NME blog post, citing the decline of EMI as proof of this. (Sadly he neglected to mention some equally spectacular errors on the part of the label, most notably an £80m four album deal for Robbie Williams.)
Earlier this week I did a blog post for the excellent Big Brother Watch, on the promising news that an Australian court had ruled that ISPs could not be held legally responsible for every case of copyright infringement by their customers.
Some of the comments took issue with my assertion that the primary motivation of those in favour of using legislation to find and punish small-scale copyright infringers (or put another way, probably billions of under 30s worldwide who share music and films). McGee’s article also called for this, arguing the way to save the music business is to “change the legislation in this country and come down much harder on piracy.” Sadly, he misses the point. That wouldn’t save the music industry - it would save record labels as we know them, pining for the boom years of the 1980s and 90s when CDs still fetched £16.99 in the shops.
In China, 95 per cent of all recorded music is pirated. So how is the Chinese music business doing? Perfectly fine, thanks. The only difference is the money doesn’t go to businesses that look anything like the major record labels of the West.
For bands starting out today, accessing an audience is far easier - and much, much cheaper - than it has ever been. Sites like Myspace are the more high-profile examples, but the fall in cost of computers and the emergence of things like Apple’s GarageBand - a bundled piece of basic but professional recording and production software - have lowered the barriers to entry for emerging artists massively.
Equally, there are far more opportunities to monetarise their music - from brand-based partnerships to touring and festivals (both of which are a bigger industry than they have ever been) and retailing varied packages of recorded music, whether that be the deluxe packages or pay-what-you-like approaches.
This is exactly the driving force behind a very exciting deal struck by Carl Barat recently, which brings together the various income generating aspects of the modern industry, and combines that with the investment backing of venture capitalists. For Barat, the costs of production are an investment for the parties involved, arguably a far more equitable process than the debt-burden of advances.
So, to those who question the feasibility of new business models, Barat is offering an illustration of one possible way forward. Radiohead continued their own off-piste adventure with King Of Limbs, and I am sure this year will see many more experiments
The main point is simple though. The marginal cost of production for digital assets is as near zero as not worth measuring,and this is the pervasive fact that has driven a generational acceptance of piracy as neither wrong nor immoral. Neither the technology nor, I would argue the punishment, exists to reverse this trend.
Its time to stop seeing piracy as theft and embrace it as a marketing force within an entirely new way of working.
go forth and spotify.
Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax
Cold War Kids - Mine is Yours
Foals - Balloons (Kieran Hebden remix)
The Joy Formidable - The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
Four Tet - Angel Echoes
Kubichek! - Start as we mean to
Radiohead - Palo Alto
The National - Lemonworld
Arctic Monkeys - Crying Lightning
New Order - Age of Consent
Posted: January 30th, 2011
Categories: What I'm listening to
, nick pickles
Comments: No Comments
Seems The Sage of Twickenham’s problems today could have been forecast by a quick look at his Twitter account.
While the profile states his current Government position, Business Secretary, his background picture is still very much Shadow Chancellor and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
While it’s a shockingly bad example of the way politicians on all sides have a habit of seeing communications tools as bandwagons only to be jumped on at election time, it might just be that Vince didn’t expect to need a ‘Government’ profile for long!
Posted: December 21st, 2010
Categories: Campaign Issues
, nick pickles
, Vince Cable
Comments: No Comments
The past few days have seen much fanfare with the unveiling of US Diplomatic Cables by WikiLeaks. While they have certainly caused much embarrassment, as yet I’ve not seen any particularly revealing content, or indeed anything that would threaten the life of a source.
While I would suggest this is because those media organisations involved have performed a degree of pre-publication redaction, which is to be welcomed, I would certainly vehemently disagree with those who see WikiLeaks as perpetrators of a crime or - as one particularly bonkers American politician did - that WikiLeaks should be classified as a terrorist organisation. Nothing disclosed is untrue, which is more than can be said of many ‘official’ sources. (Imagine what would have happened if the day of the Parliamentary vote on war in Iraq, Wikileaks had released the real sources which had been spun and massaged by messrs Blair and Campbell.)
The debate takes on a particularly interesting angle when seen in the context of UK Internet body Nominet (they control the .uk domains) announcing it is to seek, at the request of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, powers to shut down UK websites.
It should be noted, this does not include any need to seek the approval of a court.
When WikiLeaks released a video of an Apache gunship shooting dead innocent civilians - and two international journalists - they performed an absolute public service. A cover-up was exposed, and justice done.
Are we to trust the same people who deplored that release with deciding what should, and should not, be allowed to be online?
Fortunately, the same globalisation that means we can enjoy cheaper clothes and food, do business around the world and travel to far flung places for exotic holidays is exactly the same globalisation that means information is no longer containable. The two are mutually dependent - the flow of knowledge the life blood of a modern economy.
Simply, the internet is beyond the control of any Governments, without a total and unyielding control of all internet traffic. I hope that would never be allowed in Britain.
Sadly, Nominet’s proposals highlight a worrying naivety of cyber policy. It echoes the ignorance that drove the Digital Economy Act’s disconnection powers through the commons without proper debate.
I hope this proposal will be greeted with the disdain it deserves. If controlling the UK web ‘brand’ is so important, it should at a minimum be done with judicial oversight.
Personally, I think we could do far more good looking at what already goes on beyond the immediate vision of regulators and focus on supporting the real front line, fought in distant corners of the globe and anonymous cyber cafes.