Today Jeremy Corbyn launched a “digital democracy manifesto” in a presentation marred by technical glitches.
It included the following policy ideas:
But the policies have attracted criticism. Here are some of the problems:
1. A “digital passport” would be a gift to hackers
A key idea is to give citizens a “digital passport”, or “a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities”.
But according to Jamie Bartlett at Demos, this would mean recording these identities in a large government database, and that would mean “hackers will definitely try to hack it and usually will succeed.” Such stores are “honey-pots of information”, he says, of which there is a growing market on the dark web.
And although there is much work to make them more secure, he says, “every single database seems to get hacked now”.
2. The broadband roll-out would cost £25bn
The government has just finished rolling out high-speed broadband, a project which cost around £1.8bn. It misses out around 3% of the population, who are judged too far-flung.
Corbyn’s “broadband for everyone” plan would take in the missing 3%, and would also deliver fibre directly to every property: better, faster... and much more expensive. In a follow-up note to the digital manifesto Labour predicted it would cost £25bn, to be covered by their “National Investment Fund” (borrowing, in other words).
Their estimate is based on an analysis done in 2008, “so we think would cost more than that”, says a spokesman for ISPA. “And a lot is not clear. You might have a lot of questions about how on earth this could be delivered.”
3. People have been trying to make his “open-source” data idea work for years
The manifesto includes a plan that would “require that all publicly funded software and hardware is released under an open source licence”.
But the idea of making the coding for government technology projects open source is borrowed directly from the Tories, who first suggested it in 2007, and although government data has become more open since then, it has yet to reach the levels of transparency suggested in the digital manifesto.
This may be because complete transparency raises security problems - the government does run two spying organisations after all. It may also be that IT companies don’t want to turn over their code every time they take on a government project.
4. His “Open Knowledge Library” and “Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation” already exist
Two of the seven policy ideas seem to simply be publicly funded versions of existing resources - a “free-to-use on-line hub of learning resources for the National Education Service” is surely Google, and “online . . . meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation” are already happening on Twitter and Facebook.
5. 6 of the 7 policies aren’t costed
Aside from the £25bn to be spent on broadband, there are no funding plans.
6. He hasn’t opposed the Investigatory Powers Bill
Despite advocating a “digital bill of rights” - a charter to protecting of civil liberties the Lib Dems say he nicked from them - Corbyn has yet to take a position on Theresa May’s Investigatory Powers Bill, which is heavily opposed by digital rights campaigners.