A disturbing plan for control…

The Conservative Manifesto, unlike the Labour Manifesto, has some quite detailed proposals for digital policy – and in particular for the internet. Sadly, however, though there are a few bright spots, the major proposals are deeply disturbing and will send shivers down the spine of anyone interested in internet freedom.

Their idea of a ‘digital charter’ is safe, bland, motherhood and apple-pie stuff about safely and security online, with all the appropriate buzzwords of prosperity and growth. It seems a surprise, indeed, that they haven’t talked about having a ‘strong and stable internet’. They want Britain to be the best place to start and run a digital business, and to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online. Don’t we all?

When the detail comes in, some of it sounds very familiar to people who know what the law already says – and in particular what EU law already says – the eIDAS, the E-Commerce Directive, the Directive on Consumer Rights already say much of what the Tory Manifesto says. Then, moving onto data protection, it gets even more familiar:

“We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data, and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.”

This is all from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed in 2016, and due to come into force in 2018. Effectively, the Tories are trying to take credit for a piece of EU law – or they’re committing (as they’ve almost done before) to keeping compliant with that law after we’ve left the EU. That will be problematic, given that our surveillance law may make compliance impossible, but that’s for another time…

“…we will institute an expert Data Use and Ethics Commission to advise regulators and parliament on the nature of data use and how best to prevent its abuse.”

This is quite interesting – though notable that the word ‘privacy’ is conspicuous by its absence. It is, perhaps, the only genuinely positive thing in the Tory manifesto as it relates to the internet.

“We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks.”

Of course you will. The Investigatory Powers Act, however, does the opposite, as does the continued rhetoric against encryption. The NHS cyber attack, it must be remembered, was performed using a tool developed by GCHQ’s partners in the NSA. If the Tories really want to protect public services, businesses, charities and individuals, they need to change tack on this completely, and start promoting and supporting good practice and good, secure technology. Instead, they again double-down in the fight against encryption (and thus against security):

“….we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.”

…but as anyone with any understanding of technology knows, if you stop terrorists communicating safely, you stop all of us from communicating safely.


“…we also need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press.”

This presumably means some kind of measures against ‘fake news’. Most proposed measures elsewhere in the world are likely to amount to censorship – and given what else is in the manifesto (see below) I think that is the only reasonable conclusion here.

“We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online.”

This looks as though it almost certainly means harsher and more intense copyright enforcement. That, again, is only to be expected.

Then, on internet safety, they say:

“…we must take steps to protect the vulnerable… …online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline…”

Yes, We already do.

“We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm”

Note that this says ‘pornography’, not ‘illegal pornography’, and the ‘unintentionally’ part begins the more disturbing part of the manifesto. Intermediaries seem likely to be stripped of much of their ‘mere conduit’ protection – and be required to monitor much more closely what happens through their systems. This, in general, has two effects: to encourage surveillance, and to encourage caution about content (effectively to chill speech). This needs to be watched very carefully indeed.

“…we will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles. We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.”

This is the most worrying part of the whole piece. Essentially it looks like a clampdown on the social media – and, to all intents and purposes, the establishment of a full-scale internet censorship system (see the ‘fake news’ point above). Where the Tories are refusing to implement statutory regulation for the press (the abandonment of part 2 of Leveson is mentioned specifically in the manifesto, along with the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which was one of the few bits of Leveson part 1 that was implemented) they look very much as though they want to impose it upon the online media. The Daily Mail will have more freedom than blogging platforms, Facebook and Twitter – and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

When this is all combined with the Investigatory Powers Act, it looks very much like a solid clampdown on internet freedom. Surveillance has been enabled – this will strengthen the second part of the authoritarian pincer movement, the censorship side. Privacy has been wounded, now it’s the turn of freedom of expression to be attacked. I can see how this will be attractive to some – and will go down very well indeed with both the proprietors and the readers of the Daily Mail – but anyone interested in internet freedom should be very much disturbed.


13 thoughts on “A disturbing plan for control…

  1. It almost makes one despair: On the (fake) ITV news the other night they were questioning people in a marginal constituency about voting. A factory worker was presented who informed the nation that Teresa May was the only one fit for the job of fixing Brexit. Now this guy is probably on minimum wage and a zero hours contract and when he is kicked out of his job he will be quite happy to learn that his benefits have been reduced – and he is happy to vote for the party who put him in such jeopardy? He is happy because May is the best option for Brexit, something not the politicians nor the bankers or even the EU representatives know anything about. No one knows what will happen. The bone idol Tory policy for any situation is feed the rich and punish the poor and has for-ever been in place, fixed and unwavering, ‘because some people are born to tell others what to do’. They don’t do anything, they get some other poor shmuck to do it for them.
    They didn’t invent the plan to kill the Internet, they are too stupid, they were told to do it by those about whom we have been warned for more than a hundred years by honest presidents and honest politicians alike: https://nextexx.com/the-wizard-of-oz-conspiracy/
    This is history not conspiracy.

  2. I’m a reader of the Daily Mail & I find these plans disturbing! While I’m not sure how accurate a gauge the comments secton on the Mail website are about the opinion of Mail readers, but often when something like this is proposed there are a lot of comment along the lines of “Nazi” & “Stasi”. What this will do is simply drive far more people to use VPNs & Tor (unless of course they’re made illegal, which I can foresee happening). While perhaps the Tories have a point about harmful content etc., to implement huge censorship over the internet when we’ve enjoyed such freedom before will surely cause some ructions? Everyone seems to think the Tories will win with a huge majority, mainly because Labour voters will switch to backing them. Perhaps the Tories should tread very lightly. If people find it easy to switch their votes to them & abandon loyalty to Labour, then I suspect they have little loyalty to the Tories in return & could easily vote for whatever party they see as serving their interests.

  3. Sadly, the general public either do not care or actively encourage such legislation, because they are too stupid and lazy to educate themselves on how the Internet works and how they can protect themselves from “harmful content” (AKA opinions, trolls, an adult nipple or two).

    We cannot rely on the British to fight this law. They are too far gone at this point. It is up to the users of the Internet to take a stand. At the very least we should raise awareness, because the media will actively avoid talking about it.

    We need to amass a resistance akin to the one that defeated SOPA. We can’t just brush it off as just Britain’s problem, as this will have ramifications to the Internet as a whole.

    Stand up.

  4. The Conservative Manifesto: “We do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.”

    techfruit.com: Government mandated backdoors into supposedly secure software poses issues not just for the end-user, who finds themselves targeted by a hacker who discovered that very same backdoor and then uses it for themselves, but also for UK software companies. Who is going to buy “secure” software, where it is near certain that there is a backdoor already built in?
    Read it all here: http://techfruit.com/2017/05/19/conservative-government-bad-digital-britain/

    PC magazine…mysterious hacking group “Shadow Brokers” leaked a hacking tool called “Eternal Blue” developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
    Interestingly, the same tool is believed to have been used by another anonymous hacking group to gain remote access to computers, that brought parts of the NHS to a standstill… “Eternal Blue” was developed by NSA as a weapon to gain access to computers used by terrorists and enemy states around ther world.
    “Shadow Brokers” in April claimed to have stolen this hacking tool and dumped it online. The hacking group first appeared in August last year when it leaked a list of NSA hacking tools. http://in.pcmag.com/cyber-attack/114514/news/revealed-the-mysterious-case-of-shadow-brokers-and-nhs-hacki

  5. I personally think it’d be unlikely such pernicious laws would actually pass muster (maybe I’m being too optimistic?) But it does show that May has an authoritarian impulse that makes her unfit to be PM. At least the dementia tax backlash gives one hope the Tory landslide won’t be so massive as first predicted.

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