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Liberal Democrats propose Digital Rights Bill

Neil Merrett Published 11 April 2015

13 step plan aims to reforms data protection and online privacy through stronger regulator and encryption technologies

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a Digital Bill of Rights designed to strengthen the role of the UK data regulator and protect online encryption technologies should the party be involved in a coalition government following the General Election on May 7.

Launched today - Saturday April 11 - the bill has been described as a measure to set out "fundamental rights in the digital space". It follows a consultation process focused around outlining clear regulations on data protection and information sharing through apps, social media and government websites.

The Liberal Democrats have been part of a coalition government with the Conservatives for the last five years. However, over the lifespan of the latest parliament, the party has positioned itself to oppose the introduction of what it describes as "blanket" data retention that would have been introduced through legislation under a so-called "snoopers' charter".

According to the party, the new bill will serve as a response to what it alleges have been attempts by both Labour and Conservative-led governments to erode the privacy and rights of citizens and journalists as a result of technology use.

"As technology has advanced, more and more people interact online. Whilst this has brought enormous benefits to our daily lives, it has also left people open to exploitation and misuse of their personal information by criminals, commercial interests, and public authorities," said a party statement.

The Labour Party has previously committed itself to holding a data review looking at issues such as ownership of personal and public sector information should it come to power.

Speaking about today's launch, Liberal Democrat leader and incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed the government and UK politicians in general have reacted at a "snail's pace" in regard to understanding and reacting to new technology and its impacts on businesses, consumers, journalists and wider public life.

"Our Digital Bill of Rights will finally enshrine into law our rights as citizens of this country to privacy, to stop information about our lives being misused, and to protect our right to freedom of speech," said Clegg.

The bill is expected to focus on 13 key areas surrounding data and information sharing that includes:

  • Controlling personal data by ensuring, "in principle", that information is subject to the control of the individual it refers to and not the government or business
  • Ownership and control of user content
  • A free and open internet protected by the government
  • Ensuring freedom of expression online as is the case offline
  • State surveillance of the internet to take place "only where clearly justified for the protection of the public"
  • Ensuring the right of individuals and business to use strong encryption to protect security
  • Right to access and use publicly funded data and research to help develop innovative services and better ensure accountability
  • Enforcement of digital rights, including the right to complain to a competent authority that will act on concerns raised

The party has also pledged to work to introduce tougher penalties for individuals or organisations responsible for significant data breaches - something it alleges has been blocked by both Labour and the Conservatives.

The unveiling of the bill comes after the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced earlier this month that it had launched an investigation following media reports of companies selling sensitive personal data including details of pension information

"A report claimed several companies involved in the cold-calling sector appeared to be breaking the law, and the ICO is now making enquiries to establish whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations," said a statement from the data regulator.

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