UK election: the parties' tech policies examined

Quite Liberally

Despite the odd crazed peer such as Lord Clement-Jones, whose proposed - and now, heavily amended - amendment to the Digital Economy Bill was apparently written by the BPI, the Lib Dems are a pretty tech-friendly bunch - although with the exception of their anti-Digital Economy Bill stance there isn't much meat on the policy bones.

So for example they say they will "ensure universal broadband access and make sure that rural areas don't get left behind" in their policy briefing but don't explain how they'll do that. Similarly, they promise to "tackle the problem of illegal file-sharing in an effective and proportionate way" without elaborating.

For specifics you'll need to head for the old and rather dusty Make IT Policy website, which explains the need for government investment to ensure broadband reaches everyone, the need for an overhaul of copyright law, the importance of net neutrality, plans to get shot of the controversial IR35 rules that affect many IT contractors, and moves to encourage the use of open source software in government departments and contractors' systems.

The Lib Dems are also in favour of the tax breaks for the games industry: earlier this month Don Foster, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that if such tax relief was introduced in the budget "personally I'll be delighted and will be doing everything I can to make sure nobody in my party proposes stripping it out again."

Minority Report

There are more parties than just the big three, of course, although unless something really incredible happens parties such as the SNP or Plaid Cymru won't be dictating tech policy for the entire UK come May. However, it's interesting to compare the big three's plans with the policies of a younger, internet-based party: the Pirate Party UK.

There's lots of interesting things in the PPUK manifesto: legalising CD ripping; establishing a legal right to share files "provided no money changes hands"; requiring the BBC to release all its programmes with a Creative Commons licence; stronger data protection laws; and the right to pay your ISP only for the speed you actually get, not the "up to" speed the provider offers - so if you only get 1/4 of the advertised broadband speed, you'd only pay 1/4 of the agreed price.

To deliver broadband for all, the PPUK would extend the universal service obligation, which currently means anyone who wants a phone line must get one, to include broadband connectivity. DRM-protected products would have mandatory warning labels, and disabled people would have the right to bypass DRM that prevents them from accessing media.

The Pirate Party doesn't have a snowball in Hell's chance of becoming the next government, but that's not the point: by grabbing headlines and the occasional political seat, the various Pirate Parties around the world can keep copyright reform in the press and on the political agenda.

The bigger picture

So will any of this swing your vote? The answer, of course, depends on what other policies the parties have - so while you might not like a party's attitude to file sharing, you might love their economic ideas; you might love their tech policies but think their energy policy is the work of simpletons; you might be so outraged by the tax hike on cider (now scrapped) that you won't vote Labour ever again, and so on.

We'd certainly find ourselves torn if a party planned to implement invasive and unnecessary internet monitoring but also promised to fire Carol Vorderman into space. That's politics for you.


Liked this? Then check out Digital Britain: the verdict

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.