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.