June 01, 2009 | Jim Killock

Do your MEP candidates care about digital rights?

Update: We have now had a reply for all Conservative candidates.

The Open Rights Group is publicising the positions of MEPs on several key digital rights issues that Europe will be legislating on. These include copyright, data retention, personal data and the open internet.

Around half of the candidates from the Lib Dems, Greens, SNP / Plaid Cymru and UKIP have responded, but very few from the Conservative and Labour parties. As we write, in fact, not one Labour candidate has responded at all.

This may reflect the interest these parties have in the issues. We find it astounding that Labour in particular have refused to comment or advise their candidates about these concerns.

The European Parliament makes many of the key laws that frame our rights both as customers and users of new technologies. In many ways, their decisions are more important than national parliaments. ‘Three Strikes’ and other heavy-handed enforcement policies live or die on the say of EU legislators. Copyright terms and user rights are first decided at EU level. Data retention comes from an EU Directive and even Data Protection rules come from EU standards.

So we feel that it is the responsibility of EU candidates to help educate voters about their views on these matters. Not only do voters need to know that they are electing people with powers to make these decisions – but we all need to enter a democratic debate about where Europe is heading.

The lack of responses from the vast majority of Labour and Conservative candidates is therefore very disappointing.

As voters, you have a few days left to ask your candidates what they think – and inject some polite but real democratic debate about Europe back into this election.

We urge you to look carefully at the answers given within your region before weighing digital rights into who you vote for.

The questions we asked were:

  1. Europe should not extend copyright terms as longer terms damage innovation and reward the estates of deceased artists rather than working creators.
  2. Privately stored data that can be linked to individuals should be treated as 'personal data' and given stronger protection than in current UK law.
  3. The EU Data Retention Directive that requires large scale storage of internet 'traffic data' is disproportionate and likely to breach privacy protections under the European Convention of Human Rights.
  4. Internet access is a fundamental right as a means of social organisation and freedom of expression and should be defended from 'three strikes' disconnection proposals for people accused of copyright infringement. Due process should be observed in dealing with infringement cases.

Comments (13)

  1. Northern Ireland:
    Jun 04, 2009 at 06:12 PM

    For Northern Ireland constituency:

    (1) You are missing some of the 7 candidates - full list:
    Stephen Agnew, Green Party

    Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice

    Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Fein

    Diane Dodds, DUP

    Alban Maginness, SDLP

    Jim Nicholson, Conservatives and Unionists

    Ian Parsley, Alliance

    (2) What you list as UUP - fighting this election on joint ticket with Conservatives & will take Con whip if elected, so fill in the Party response.

  2. The Pirate Bay Urges EU Users to Get Out and Vote:
    Jun 05, 2009 at 04:34 AM

    [...] are urging all Europeans to get out and vote in the EU election. Already, the Open Rights Group posted about which MPs in Britain support digital rights, helping Europeans in general decide who is best suited to defending online [...]

  3. Robert Jewitt:
    Jun 04, 2009 at 09:27 AM

    I conducted a much smaller exercise around the copyright term extension proposal and wrote to the 3 major parties. The results can be found on my blog. Suffice to say, the Lib Dems are the only party who seemed to actually care about what the public think, rather than corporate interests

  4. Jim Killock:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    Hi Dan / JD,

    We gave all candidates at least two opportunities to respond, and chased the Labour candidates especially hard as we had no responses from them. We made a similar effort with the Conservatives, and some are replying with a detailed standard response. We made less effort with Lib Dem, Green and UKIP candidates, who were however in general more willing to reply, usually favourably.

    Hope this helps,


  5. Jim Killock:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 01:51 PM

    This is the statement we had from the Conservatives; the Agree / Disagree we interpreted from their positions as outlined here:

    Your email raises some very important issues affecting citizen’s rights in the digital age. However, the questions you raise are too complex to respond with a yes or no answer and therefore I would like to take this opportunity to outline the Conservative Party’s position on these issues.

    Firstly, we recognize that issues surrounding copyright extension are controversial but Conservatives are of the opinion that copyright is extremely important because it is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their money and invest in the future. The UK has a very strong music industry and safeguards must be put in place if we are to maintain our position in today’s marketplace. A copyright extension is a first step in this direction and should be supported.

    Secondly, EU law in the form of the 1995 Data Protection Directive provides that any information "relating to an identified or identifiable natural person" is personal data. In addition, we have worked to address the issue of stored data in the review of the e-privacy Directive. For example, developments concerning the use of IP addresses will be followed closely by the European Commission. More generally though, we will be making the review of the 1995 Data Protection Directive a priority for the new Parliament.

    Thirdly, the EU Data Retention Directive, which was incorporated into UK law through the Data Retention Regulations 2007, strikes an important balance between the right to privacy and law enforcement. It remains subject to lively debate and possible court challenges. We believe that the balance between penalizing criminal activity and protecting privacy rights is extremely important and in any future review, we will be working with this in mind.

    Fourthly, we strongly agree that Internet access is an important way for citizens to exercise their fundamental rights to the freedom of expression and to receive and impart information. These rights are protected by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We believe that in any disconnection process, due process must be observed and rights must also be protected in dealing with infringement cases. However, while all Member States must respect fundamental rights, it is their competence, rather than the EU's, to decide on the internal organisation of their judicial systems.

  6. J D:
    Jun 01, 2009 at 04:27 PM

    @Dan Wilson

    Can anyone or any organization be truly "impartial" as you state.
    Making any decision "requires a judgement".

    The best you can ever do is to be open & aboveboard about the decision you have made. (without political doublespeak)

  7. Dynamo_ace:
    Jun 04, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    @Robert Jewitt

    Sadly, one MEP, Liz Lynne (West Midlands) disagreed with the Copyright extension question. But she did support the other three statements.

    For the record, 6 Lib Dem candidates disagreed with the copyright extension question. 1 Lib Dem candidate disagreed with the Privacy Online question. Three disagreed with Surveillance State question. No one disagreed with the Open Internet question.

    Plus, keep in mind some MPs don't entirely reveal their hand for fears rivals will get a advantage by donations. And some have given no answer.

  8. PL Hayes:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    Great! :/ The results of your survey combined with this one http://layscience.net/node/581 are pretty depressing.

  9. Dynamo_ace:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 01:15 PM

    The Tories seem to have a general verdict of just wanting to ensure privacy online and nothing else. That seems very piecemeal and hypocritical when compared to the other questions asked.

    It is also disturbing since the Tories are the only other party who would be able to form a government without a hung parliament.

  10. Dan Wilson:
    Jun 01, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    It's a bit of a shame to see a member of the ORG's Advisory Panel (who is also one of the MEP candidates surveyed) using this potentially useful survey to make a party political point on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jasonkitcat/status/1990248198

    It does make me question the impartiality of the exercise.

  11. Dynamo_ace:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 05:04 PM

    I forgot to mention that Plaid Cymru has also completely filled the poll

  12. Noticias Edición Digital » Blog Archive » What’s your MEP’s position on digital rights?:
    Jun 01, 2009 at 05:46 PM

    [...] is an important article for all our European readers. Check your MEP’s (Member of the European Parliament, for American readers) position. Here is [...]

  13. Dynamo_ace:
    Jun 02, 2009 at 04:25 PM

    The Conservatives and the Scottish Greens have now completely filled the poll