Jeremy Corbyn, the much maligned and yet surprisingly popular leader of the Labour Party, has launched his party’s digital manifesto this week. And for those who have been paying attention to his leadership to date, it might not come as too much of a surprise to learn that all did not go to plan.
It might seem a curious time for Labour to be launching their policy position in what for many is still a rather niche area. They are currently in the midst of a leadership contest, with Corbyn being challenged by Owen Smith, that threatens to descend into outright civil war.
At the same time, the decision by the British people to leave the European Union has led to wholesale changes in the governing Conservative Party as well significant economic uncertainty.
Digital Bill of Rights
But for those of us with an interest in the digital sector, the publication of the Digital Democracy Manifesto is to be welcomed, even if it does only stretch to four pages and seven points. And the content itself does contain some commitments to be welcomed, even if they are expressed extremely vaguely.
Importantly he committed the Labour Party to a public consultation which will lead to a digital bill of rights, which is called in the manifesto “The People’s Charter of Digital Liberties”. It only warranted one short paragraph in the final document, but this did include the crucial line “the human right of personal privacy should give legal protection for British citizens from not only unwarranted snooping.”
For those of us who value our privacy online, this commitment is to be welcomed, although how this would work in practice is not made clear.
Corbyn also undermined this commitment more than a little by reaffirming his support for the Conservative Government’s hugely intrusive Investigatory Powers Bill. This piece of proposed legislation has rightly been nicknamed the Snoopers Charter for the new powers it hands to the intelligence community to snoop on British citizens online.
Other pledges were just plain silly. The idea of a Digital Citizens Passport already exists of a kind for anyone who uses the Government Gateway to access services online. It also rehashes some aspects of the Blair Government’s highly intrusive, unpopular and unnecessary ID Card scheme.
Meanwhile their commitment to creating an ‘Open Knowledge Library’ sounds rather like a publicly run version of Wikipedia, promising to make public information which is mostly freely available already.
It was apparent from listening to Corbyn speaking at the launch that he had little in-depth understanding of the issues which he was announcing policy about. Indeed, the entire manifesto has been written not by him or a shadow cabinet member, but rather by Richard Barbrook, a policy advisor and rather controversial academic, who has been linked to the IRA and is an outspoken supporter of communism.
The launch event itself seemed to rather sum up how the policy proposals have gone down. His PowerPoint presentation was not formatted correctly, the online video feed of the event failed, and his Facebook account link didn’t work.
It is safe to say the digital community in the UK has not received the new policies entirely favourably, with commentary broadly summarizing it as outdated, out of touch, and extremely vague.
But it shouldn’t be totally derided. It does indicate that the Labour Party does have a broad desire to support the right to online privacy and to launch it now suggests that this policy area is recognized as being an important one moving forward.
Of course, their continued support for the Investigatory Powers Bill does undermine this pledge, and rather than wait for a Corbyn government to safeguard online privacy, users in the UK are probably better of taking matters into their own hands and signing up for a VPN.