Digital Privacy

Lobbying and public policy

Corporate lobbying in the European union has long been recognised as a significant problem for citizens. Friends of the Earth and others organised the ‘Worst EU Lobby Awards’ which in 2006 voted that DG Internal Market provided the ‘worst priviliged access’ by manipulating a consultation on EU patent policies, including of course, software patents.

Of course, businesses need to make their views known, which in practice means lobbying. The problem is how it’s done. As the Lobby Awards say, there is disinformation, creation of ‘astro-turf’ (fake grassroots) groups, and it is easy for lobbyists to secure privileged access.

There is only one real answer, which is transparency. Transparency is created by rules, but also public attention. That includes the media, but also civil action, through groups like ORG. We need to change what we ourselves can change: which means getting better at bringing the EU’s work to public attention, to make sure we get the best results.

There is of course also a question of who gets into positions of influence within the larger corporations. Some policy decisions will simply be matters of financial interest, but sometimes what is needed is people who understand the principles to get into the jobs and explain why customer interest is aligned with business interest.

This is particularly true with privacy concerns. There are a number of interesting examples of former campaigners and highly-regarded experts working in companies where they can hopefully do good. Caspar Bowden (MS) and Bruce Schneier (BT) are names that spring to mind.

Open Rights Group will therefore be particularly interested in the work that Richard Allan does at Facebook, as Policy Director. Richard is currently on ORG’s Advisory Council and has had a long track record of sensitivity to privacy issues as an MP and campaigner. Open Rights Group, other NGOs and Facebook will not always agree – but we think it is a very valuable decision for Facebook to appoint somebody whose personal views have been close to ours. Hopefully it will mean a well-informed and constructive debate.