June 21, 2017 | Jim Killock

Queen’s speech 2017—threats to privacy and free speech

First analyses of the Queen’s Speech are focussing on what isn’t included, as a weakened Conservative Government appears to have dropped a number of its manifesto commitments but there are several worrying things for digital rights. One welcome development could be data protection legislation, to fill the options in the GDPR.


There are references to a review of Counter-terrorism and a Commision for Countering Extremism which will include Internet-related policies. Although details are lacking, these may contain threats to privacy and free speech. The government has opted for a “Digital Charter”, which isn’t a Bill, but something else.

Here are the key areas that will affect digital rights:

Digital Charter

This isn’t a Bill, but some kind of policy intervention, backed up by “regulation”. This could be the system of fines for social media companies previously mentioned, but this is not explained.

The Digital Charter appears to address both unwanted and illegal content or activity online, and the protection of vulnerable people. The work of CTIRU and the IWF are mentioned as examples of work to remove illegal or extremist content.

At this point, it is hard to know exactly what harms will emerge, but pushing enforcement into the hands of private companies is problematic. It means that decisions never involve courts and are not fully transparent and legally accountable.

Counterterrorism review

There will be a review of counterterrorism powers. The review includes “working with online companies to reduce and restrict the availability of extremist material online”.

This appears to be a watered down version of the Conservative manifesto commitment to give greater responsibility for companies to take down extremist material from their platforms. Already Google and Facebook have issued public statements about how they intend to improve the removal of extremist material from their platforms.

Commission for Countering Extremism

A Commission will look at the topic of countering extremism, likely including on the Internet.

This appears to be a measure to generate ideas and thinking, which could be a positive approach, if it involves considering different approaches, rather than pressing ahead with policies in order to be seen to be doing something. The quality of the Commission will therefore depend on their ability to take a wide range of evidence and assimilate it impartially; it faces a significant challenge in ensuring that fundamental rights are respected within any policy suggestions they suggest.

Data Protection Bill

A new Data Protection Bill, “will fulfil a manifesto commitment to ensure the UK has a data protection regime that is fit for the 21st century”. This will replace the Data Protection Act 1998, which is in any case being removed as the result of the new General Data Protection Regulation passed by the European Parliament last year. Regulations apply directly, so the GDPR does not need to be ‘implemented’ in UK law before Brexit.

We welcome that (at least parts of) the GDPR will be implemented in primary legislation with a full debate in Parliament. It is not clear if the text of the GDPR will be brought into this Bill, or whether it supplements it.

This appears to be a bill to at least implement some of the ‘derogations’ (options) in the GDPR, plus the new rules for law enforcement agencies, that came in with the new law enforcement-related Directive and have to be applied by EU member states.

The bulk of the important rights are in the GDPR, and cannot be tampered with before Brexit. We welcome the chance to debate the choices, and especially to press for the right of privacy groups to bring complaints directly.

Missing: sex and relationships education

There is no mention of the introduction of compulsory sex and relationship education in schools, which was a manifesto commitment for all the main parties, Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative. As there appeared to be a consensus on this issue, it is not clear why this seems to have been dropped.

Encryption is also not mentioned, but that’s because the powers will be brought in through a statutory instrument enabling Technical Capability Notices.

Help us win new rights and fight off censorship

There’s lots to do. Please help us fight proposals for privatised and unaccountable censorship, and to establish rights for privacy groups to complain directly about data protection breaches. Join ORG for £6/month so we can defend your rights.

 

Comments (2)

  1. Filipescu Mircea Alexandru:
    Jun 21, 2017 at 07:18 PM

    From what I'm reading here, this is actually not that bad! At least nothing compared to the absolute madness Theresa May was unleashing, before her dictatorial fantasies were swept away by the elections. The queen is by far a lot more reasonable... of course we cannot expect someone in their 90's to understand what the internet is, which is why we still see that bit of "but we should still control the internet a little" in her speech.

    Honestly I think now is the time for ORG and any pro-progress organization in the UK to end this ignorance once and for all; People everywhere can think for themselves, we don't need a moral authority to shoot down ideas and protect us from our own thoughts... this sort of thing died with the Soviet Union and it's not a past we're going back to!

  2. Sandy Walles:
    Jun 27, 2017 at 09:46 AM

    I think most progressives are in favor of free speech and oppose violent demonstrations to prevent people from speaking. However they are much more ambivalent about demonstrations that disrupt a speech to the point that it has to be cancelled confusing disruption with free speech. Just as there is no right to go into a movie theater or courtroom, or football game to disrupt the event there is no right to go into an auditorium to disrupt a speaker. There is plenty of opportunity to demonstrate outside an event which has been reserved and designated for a particular purpose.

    The real problem is that campuses are left wing institutions, and while those that respect free speech are the majority, they don't have the backbone to take any measures to protect, and only have a lukewarm commitment to the principle in the first place.

    As I found out when writing a piece for http://essay.expert/ Diane Feinstein is a perfect example, in the hearing EV testified at yesterday. She seemed to suggest she was for free speech in principle, but colleges and universities should be free to decide just how much effort they would expend to protect free speech based on how offensive the speech was perceived to be:

    “No matter how radical, offensive, biased, prejudiced, fascist the program is, you should find a way to accommodate it?”

    I think the answer is yes, if you have a group on campus that is allowed to invite speakers, then the speakers should be allowed to have their say.



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