Safeguarding digital liberties

An update on a project to protect and enhance key elements of the internet

Dee Searle

Senior Green Party figures joined the launch in May of a project for a digital bill of rights intended to protect?and enhance key elements of the Internet (such as privacy, access, education and free speech) from state and commercial infringement. The project has support from all major political parties and will involve crowdsourcing the content of the bill from members of the public, helped by a range of existing and proposed Internet bills of rights from around the world, made available on the project's website.

Speaking at the launch, Shahrar Ali, Green Party Deputy Leader, said: "A robust, holistic digital liberties framework is needed to protect individuals and ensure the public good. The constantly evolving digital world demands a solution that goes beyond addressing the current known challenges to define an enabling environment that will ensure the benefits of the Internet for generations to come."?

In her statement of support, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas detailed how she took the government to court last year over its surveillance of MPs and their communications with constituents, a widespread practice justified in the name of combatting terrorism.

"Our basic rights are being breached day in, day out in more and more worrying ways"?, said Lucas. "There's no evidence it makes us safer and, even if there were, rights should not be trampled over like this. A digital bill of rights setting out basic principles would genuinely safeguard citizens and ensure the digital world is not controlled by the state or private corporations."?

The campaign for a digital bill of rights is led by the digital futures think-tank, Cybersalon. Founder Eva Pascoe said it is wrong to spend ?1 billion on the Investigatory Powers Bill (widely dubbed the 'Snoopers' Charter') currently working its way through Parliament, when there is under-investment in digital training and in rolling out broadband across Britain.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell suggested that crowdsourcing text for a digital bill of rights could be a blueprint for drafting future legislation, because it can show sufficient weight of opinion in and outside Parliament to achieve cross-party support.

The initiative has support from the Open Rights Group, Open Democracy, Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Demos and Digital Shoreditch. Following crowdsourcing, expert lawyers will compile the resulting document into draft legislation to go before the next session of Parliament. McDonnell estimated that the process would take between six and 12 months.

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