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5 policies from the Green Party’s digital manifesto

What has the fringe left party got in store for the IT industry?


The UK is deep in election season, with this week seeing a deluge of announcements as the various parties vie for success in the general election on May 7.

Among them are the fledgling Greens, a rising force on the fringes of the left that has radical plans for a new type of politics, including on the subject of digital. Here is what they want:

1. An end to mass surveillance

Since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that British and American spies were pouring over the communications of civilians en masse there has been significant backlash from across the political spectrum against the existence of snooping programmes.

The Green position is that "secret unaccountable" schemes of this kind should be opposed, though the party does accept that in "specific circumstances" it may be necessary for police to intercept peoples’ private messages.

As the manifesto puts it: "Such specific surveillance should be proportionate, necessary, effective and within the rule of law, with independent judicial approval and parliamentary oversight."

2. Stronger data protection against Silicon Valley

The European courts have lately seen cases in which American technology firms are scrutinised over alleged misuse of citizens’ data.

Recent highlights include a case brought against Facebook by the privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, who does not want his data on the social network to be held in the US.

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Those in the Green Party are of the same mind, and as such have pledged to support EU proposals to strengthen data protection laws, which could include obligations around data residency or notions such as "the right to be forgotten" which forces search engines to delete certain search results.

3. Reduced censorship and takedowns online

Having been designed as a means of sharing content as easily as possible, the Internet has proved implacable in the face of government attempts to remove illicit and copyrighted content from the web.

This is a trend that the Greens apparently have little intention of stopping, save in "exceptional circumstances", which is good news for pirates and open digital rights advocates.

In line with this they are also looking to reform copyright law to make it shorter, fairer (at least by their definition) and more flexible.

4. Abolition of patents in software

IT is the most heavily patented industry in the Western world, with tech companies from across the globe dominating the top ten US patient recipients list for the last two decades.

Of late much of the innovation has appeared on the software side, which is likely to make the Greens’ pledge to "prevent patents applying to software" a controversial one in Old Street and many other British tech clusters.

The policy comes even as open source software has gained wide acceptance among Silicon Valley’s monoliths, many of whom support organisations like the Linux Foundation, which runs the open source operating system of the same name.

5. A ban on the sale of personal data

In the information age the value of knowledge is in some instance going up rather than down, particularly when it comes to personal information that advertisers are hungry for.

Many tech companies have built their business models on the collection of such data, often courting controversy of it in the process. With that in mind the Greens may be set to cause a stir with a prospective ban on the sale of personal data, including health or tax records.

On the public side the party also wishes to open up government data, which might prove more popular. One suggestion is that data on the progress of buses could be used by smartphone apps to predict waiting times.

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