Digital Democracy Manifesto

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The Digital Democracy Manifesto is a series of brief policy proposals from Jeremy Corbyn's Labour. It was written and coordinated By Richard Barbrook during the summer of 2016 and it includes a firm commitment to support platform cooperatives.

Digital Democracy Manifesto Source

Full Text

Technological advancements have transformed our daily lives, and politics is changing too. The issues may not change that much – people want decent housing and decent jobs, they want access to education and opportunity, they want thriving public services and a society which works for the millions not just the millionaires. But the terrain on which opinions are formed is changing.

With rapid advances in digital technology, data and information can become sources of inequality and exploitation as well as. This digital manifesto is about ensuring that our advances are shared, utilised and enjoyed by everyone, as part of a wider strategy to rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind.

Universal Service Network

We will deliver high speed broadband and mobile connectivity for every household, com- pany and organisation in Britain from the inner city neighbourhoods to the remotest rural community. The National Investment Bank will fund the public sector backbone of this vital infrastructure project, regional banks will support local access cooperatives and Ofcom will coordinate the private telecoms companies’ contribution to its realisation. Because ubiqui- tous access to digital networks is now a prerequisite of 21st century life and business, we will ensure that high speed broadband and mobile connectivity is available at the same low price without any data transfer cap across the whole country.

Open Knowledge Library

We will create a free-to-use on-line hub of learning resources for the National Education Ser- vice. The Open Knowledge Library will be the digital repository of lessons, lectures, curricula and student work from Britain’s nurseries, schools, colleges and universities. We will require the findings of all state-funded research to be made available without charge to the general public through this learning portal. In collaboration with the teachers’ unions and the NUS, the Open Knowledge Library will host virtual meeting places for educational professionals and students to share experiences, disseminate ideas and form collaborations.

Community Media Freedom

We will ensure that British citizens are able both to express their own views and to receive the widest possible diversity of opinions over high speed digital networks. The National Education Service will provide learning resources for students of all ages to acquire the theoretical in- sights and practical skills for analysing and making media. The BBC Charter will be updated with a firm commitment to nurture and broadcast programming from local and identity com- munities. Ofcom will protect network neutrality from discrimination between data streams and manipulation of software algorithms for private gain. National and local funding bodies will be encouraged to sponsor new media arts projects. We will reform the laws on intellectual property so that both producers and consumers benefit.

Platform Cooperatives

We will foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. The National Investment Bank and regional banks will finance social enterprises whose websites and apps are designed to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers in the transport, accommodation, cultural, catering and other important sectors of the British economy. We will introduce new laws guaranteeing a secure employment contract and the inalienable right of trade union membership to everyone who earns most or some of their livelihood from digital platforms. We will apply the best practices and adopt the techno- logical innovations of this cooperative upgrade of the sharing economy to improve the provi- sion, delivery and utilisation of public sector services at the local, regional and national levels.

Digital Citizen Passport

We will develop a voluntary scheme that provides British citizens with a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities. The Digital Citizen Passport will be used when interacting with public services like health, welfare, education and housing. It also can be the network intermediary with commercial providers of tangible or virtual goods. The individual holders of a Digital Citizen Passport will be able to control who has access to their personal data and for what purposes. We will encourage people to share anonymised information for medical, government and academic research. We will protect the human right of individual privacy with strict laws against the unauthorised hacking of Digital Citizen Passports by either public bodies or private individuals.

Programming For Everyone

We will encourage publicly funded software and hardware to be released under an Open Source licence. Where possible, government agencies will upgrade their computers and net- works with these improved versions of democratic programming. The National Education Service will enthuse both children and adults to learn how to write software and to build hardware. Public bodies will financially reward staff technicians who significantly contribute to Open Source projects. We will host official events which celebrate the achievements of both the professional and hobbyist designers of the networked future.

A People's Charter of Digital Liberty Rights

We will launch a public consultation with people and parties across the political spectrum to draw up a digital bill of rights. This constitutional settlement will reaffirm the continued importance of long-held and hard-won individual and collective freedoms within the new in- formation society. The human right of personal privacy should give legal protection for British citizens from not only unwarranted snooping on their on-line activities by the security services, but also unjustified surveillance by CCTV and other hi-tech methods within the workplace. The People’s Charter of Digital Liberties will be the public statement of the political, civil and socio-economic principles for the networked version of British democracy, including universal access, community media, open learning and cooperative creativity. By enhancing the on-line rights of every individual, we will facilitate the virtual collectivity of all citizens.

Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation

We will utilise information technologies to make popular participation in the democratic pro- cess easy and inclusive. The holders of a Digital Citizen Passport will be automatically placed on the electoral register of their new constituency as soon as they change their home address. We will aim to organise both online and offline meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation. The Na- tional Education Service will enlighten the British electorate with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills of digital citizenship. We will create a 21st century networked democracy where everybody can be a political decision-maker.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at digital democracy manifesto launch

Sourced from The Labourlist, August 30, 2016.

Thank you everyone for coming here today.

Twenty years ago, this speech would have been prepared, at best, on a basic desktop computer. Research would have required wading through stacks of paper notes. Live transmission would have limited to big TV channels. If you liked the content and wanted to campaign for me, you would have to attend a physical phonebank, with landlines.

Today, it can be delivered to an audience of millions at the touch of a button. As the conversation continues on social media, millions of ordinary people gain a voice, however piecemeal. Our campaigns are run with big data and cutting edge software. You can phonebank from anywhere with an app, in whatever free time you have.

We are pioneering techniques and innovations that will form the basis not just of this campaign, but Labour’s path to victory at the next general election.

Britain has led the world in the development of technology. And it is exciting to be here today in East London, a place of so much innovation and creativity, to launch our campaign’s digital manifesto.

The internet, and the development of smartphones and computers, has transformed our daily lives. I can call a friend on the other side of the world just by opening the Skype app on my phone. And we can access information like never before. We are long past the point when ‘google’ became a verb.

Politics is changing too. The issues may not change that much – people want decent housing and decent jobs, they want access to education and opportunity, they want thriving public services and a society which works for the millions not just the millionaires. But the terrain on which opinions are formed is changing.

With the rapid advances in digital technology, data and information can become sources of inequality and exploitation as well as. It hasn’t been easy to ensure democracy always takes place online. This is why our manifesto we’re launching today seeks to democratise the internet.

Let me take you through the manifesto.

I don’t think it’s fair that people living in London get to enjoy 4G internet connection wherever they go, when in Wales, Cornwall and other places in the UK, they can’t even get a single bar of reception.

Across the country, outside of the South East and especially in rural and remote parts of the UK, people are struggling with slow or no internet. In today’s connected age, this inequality of coverage is not trivial – it is a barrier to learning and to business opportunities, and it is a source of social and economic isolation.

To improve connectivity we want to see a Universal Service Network that will deliver high speed broadband and mobile connectivity for every household, company and organisation in Britain from the inner city neighborhoods to the remotest rural community.

The cost of this is estimated at £25billion, and would be covered by our National Investment Bank.

Secondly, as part of Labour’s plans for a universally accessible National Education Service, we will create a free-to-use online hub which we’re calling an Open Knowledge Library”, a digital repository of lessons, lectures, curricula.

We will foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. The National Investment Bank and regional banks will finance social enterprises whose websites and apps are designed to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers – in transport, accommodation, cultural, catering and other important sectors of the British economy.

In the new sharing economy, we will reform copyright laws to ensure that cultural workers are paid properly for their labour. And we will introduce new laws guaranteeing a secure employment contract and trade union membership to everyone who earns most or some of their livelihood from digital platforms.

We are also interested in the idea of developing a voluntary scheme that provides British citizens with a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities. The Digital Citizen Passport will be used when interacting with public services like health, welfare, education and housing.

To ensure everyone has access to software needed for programming, we will encourage all publicly funded software and hardware to be released under an Open Source licence.

To protect us from unwarranted surveillance, and to protect our individual and collective freedoms, the next Labour government will introduce A People’s Charter of Digital Liberties, following a public consultation with people and parties across the political spectrum.

Finally, we will use technology to in a broader policy to devolve and open up British democracy. We will organize online and offline meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation. And if we can be sure of its reliability, we will look to introduce online voting in elections.

From travelling all over the UK and meeting thousands of people over the past year, I know there is a huge thirst for people to get more involved in devising policy making and having a say in politics.

— Labour have now lost two successive general elections. As this and other detailed policy announcements show, we have a plan for Britain. But in order to implement that plan, we need to be in power.

We will not win elections solely by relying on the methods and strategies of the past.

And I’m pleased to say that our leadership campaign, is leading the way in harnessing the advances of new technology so that we can organise political campaigning like we’ve never seen before in Britain.

Our digital phone canvassing app for example, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, has already been used by thousands of people in our campaign.

The creativity of the networked young generation is phenomenal. We have tens of thousands of young volunteers on our campaign all over the UK taking part in this digital revolution.

The challenge is to now take this forward to the next general election. Labour under my leadership will utilise the advances of digital technology so that we can mobilise the most visible, targeted and effective General Election campaign in British history.

Together, we will rebuild and transform Britain so that no on and no community is left behind.

Thank you”

Discussion

Paul Bernal

"Any effective set of digital rights needs to acknowledge and address the commercial internet. Our rights need to apply to the private sector as well as the state".

"It is positive that Corbyn has issued this manifesto – and particularly that he included, albeit in a very limited form, a ‘People's Charter of Digital Liberty Rights’. He is not the first politician to do this. In 2014, Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert proposed a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ to “protect our fundamental liberties online.”

The idea of declarations of rights – whether they be conventions, statements, ‘bills of rights’ or some other form – is a very potent one, as the many well known historical examples demonstrate. It bore particular legal fruit in the revolutionary time at the end of the eighteenth century, with France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the US Bill of Rights in 1789, and intellectual analyses in Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man in 1791, Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

In some ways this was a recognition of a shift in power – and an assertion that an iniquitous or damaging situation could not be allowed to continue. These revolutions were against despotism and tyranny, and an attempt to protect people from it.

Similarly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950, were a reaction to the horrors of the Second World War, the Holocaust and the Nazis. People need protection – but they also need freedom. Rights, and the language of rights, are part of that.

When looking at these kinds of declaration, there are critical questions to ask. Who are the people concerned? Who and what is threatening them? What are they being threatened with? How can they be protected from those threats?

And, in this particular context, how can the opportunities and advantages that the internet provides be harnessed for the people? What, indeed, do we think the internet is for? What role should governments play in this? What rights do people have when they use the internet? Who should establish these rights, to what purpose, and in what form?

None of these are easy questions, and none have simple answers – but people have been both asking them and trying to answer them from the earliest days of the internet.

It is more than 20 years since John Perry Barlow’s seminal ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, which set out the stall for those who thought that governments should leave the internet alone, and stop even trying to interfere. As Perry Barlow put it:

“I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”

The suggestion was direct: governments should not and could not impose their rules upon the internet community.

Governments have not, unsurprisingly, taken Perry Barlow’s advice – and the extent to which they could have or should have taken it remains a matter of contention. There is still a strong school of thought that much (or indeed most) intervention by governments into the internet is counterproductive or harmful. And yet the internet has changed massively since 1996, as has the nature of those who spend time on it. As a consequence, arguments about rights in particular are in many ways very different from those made then.

Back in 1996, when the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace was written, the people concerned were a fairly homogenous group. Largely young men, rich, well-educated, technologically-aware, mostly white, primarily American and with a distinctly libertarian outlook – and the threat came from governments and their attempts to regulate the internet, thus restricting their freedom.

Since 1996, however, things have changed significantly. The internet ‘community’ is a very different one, much more diverse in many ways – there are people of all kinds on the net, including children. The net is truly ‘world-wide’ now, with a wide diversity of culture, religion, politics and philosophies. The involvement of governments is much larger and multi-faceted – and perhaps even more importantly, other hugely significant ‘players’ in the game have become involved: the commercial internet companies. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others are in many ways every bit as powerful and important as governments in relation to how the internet functions.

In this rapidly expanding and constantly transforming internet, the kinds of rights we need are often difficult to pin down – though pin them down we must, at least to some extent, if they are to be protected. This is why there have been many attempts to create ‘bills of rights’, and not just in the UK. The ‘Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition’, based at the UN Internet Governance Forum, was set up in 2010, and put forward a charter of human rights and principles for the internet, which sets out a vision for human rights and principles that parallels the kinds of rights set out in the UDHR and the ECHR.

The rights in this charter are to a great extent familiar, but some have particular relevance to the internet. Freedom of expression online includes the right to online protest and freedom from censorship. The right to privacy includes freedom from surveillance, the right to anonymity and the right to use encryption.

It is when we look at these rights that the UK in particular is falling far short of what is required – and where Corbyn’s manifesto was deeply disappointing, and a big missed opportunity.

In terms of freedom of speech, the UK fails badly. Former Prime Minister David Cameron very actively promoted the idea of ‘filters’ to restrict access to pornography and a wide range of what might be deemed to be inappropriate websites, which resulted in significant ‘over-blocking’, including of political sites, sites promoting sex education and sexual health and more.

This movement towards what some would call censorship, others the creation of a ‘safe’ environment is showing no signs of slowing down: last week it was announced that GCHQ is drawing up plans to create a ‘Great British Firewall’ to block ‘malicious content’. Both Cameron’s ‘porn’ filters and GCHQ’s ‘Great British Firewall’ are on the surface about safety and security. There is a balance to be found between these rights, but that balance requires understanding and discussion – whilst in practice the idea of freedom of speech barely gets a mention.

It is a similar story on privacy. The Investigatory Powers Bill, currently making its final steps through parliament, treats privacy as an afterthought rather than a fundamental right to be protected by default. When asked by parliamentary committees to make privacy central to the bill, almost all that was done was to change the title of one section to include the word ‘privacy’.

This is one of the biggest ‘let downs’ of the Corbyn Digital Democracy Manifesto. It did not address either of the two big areas of privacy and freedom of expression in anything but a cursory manner, and did not recognise or acknowledge the UK’s distinct problems in both these areas.

This was particularly disappointing for a Labour document. Though Labour has a poor record on civil liberties in recent years, it really should not, because rights of freedom of expression have been critical for the Labour movement, and surveillance has been used very directly against left wing groups, protestors and even Labour politicians. For Labour, civil liberties and human rights should be a strength rather than a weakness.

The other big omission from Corbyn’s version of a digital bill of rights – and indeed in some ways from the whole of the Digital Democracy Manifesto – is a recognition of the role of the commercial internet, and in particular of the internet giants Google, Facebook and others.

‘Traditional’ human rights have been established to protect people from state overreach, but in the internet as it currently exists it is not just the state that people need protection from. Indeed, though Edward Snowden’s revelations about the surveillance activities of the NSA, GCHQ and others were deeply shocking to many, they only form part of the picture. As Bruce Schneier put it:

“The NSA didn't wake up and say, ‘Let's just spy on everybody.’ They looked up and said, ‘Wow, corporations are spying on everybody. Let's get ourselves a copy.’”

What is more, in practice it may be that surveillance by Facebook and Google represent more of a risk to most people than that of the NSA and GCHQ. Though the authorities have stronger sanctions, relatively few people are likely to be impacted by their activities. Corporate surveillance could reduce your job opportunities, increase your insurance premiums and/or undermine your relationships: harm may not be so extreme but might have an impact on far more people.

The point about commercial enterprises is that they’ve taken over control over so many of the areas where our rights matter. Freedom of expression is left in the hands of Facebook – the recent story of the censorship of the Napalm child picture highlights just one of the problems – and Google, who between them provide so much of the opportunity to be heard and control the access to information that is the other, equally important side of this right.

We associate and assemble online in forums under the control of these same corporations – and organise and coordinate our associations and assemblies off line with tools provided by them too.

For all these reasons, any effective set of digital rights needs to acknowledge and address the commercial internet. Our rights need to apply to the private sector as well as the state – and it is not enough to say that people have ‘choice’ whether to use Facebook, Google and so forth, so they consent to that surveillance. In practice there is very little choice – and when all of those involved use the same techniques, and with the same lack of transparency, even that little choice is an illusion. The reality is that most people use Facebook, and most people use Google. To pretend otherwise is to fail to face reality – and in the end rights are only worth their salt if they have a grounding in reality.


That, ultimately, is the key point. The reason to have rights is to have an effect. The reason to declare rights is so that those rights are respected and protected – and established as norms of what is acceptable. That means rights have to be based in what is really happening, and have to reflect a real understanding of the situation and of the threats than need addressing.

In the UK in particular, that means facing up to what we are doing over censorship and surveillance. In the whole world that means facing up to the role of the commercial operators on the net, and seeing how much we are handing over to them in relation to our rights. Understanding that Facebook and Google are not champions of free speech, for example, but businesses whose bottom line is the bottom line, may be difficult and may have uncomfortable implications, but it is crucial.

For politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, it means listening to more people than his inner circle – but Corbyn is far from alone in this failure. The last decade of UK politics is littered with poorly conceived projects and terrible laws, from Gordon Brown’s Digital Economy Act in 2010 to the current mess that is the Investigatory Powers Bill, and one of the prime reasons for this is a failure to understand the internet, or to listen to those that do.

It would be nice to imagine that at some point this would change, but there are precious few signs of it. With Theresa May in Downing Street, the UK government is unlikely to move in anything but the wrong direction in relation to either human rights or the internet – which makes it even more important that Labour provides some sort of coherent alternative.

Corbyn’s manifesto launch does not really do that, but he does leave the door open for further consultation. Now that his position as Labour leader has been reaffirmed, and seems to be secure at least for the immediate future, that opening might become a little wider. This is something that matters, so I hope that Corbyn and the Labour hierarchy let people step through that door, and when they do, I hope they listen. If they do, there’s a chance that we all might benefit. The struggle for rights has always been a longterm one, and every small step matters." (https://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-bernal/small-steps-in-struggle-for-digital-rights)

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