Lib Dems say they would protect privacy of UK citizens, hold a complete review of state surveillance and promote green tech development
The Liberal Democrats have promised to protect citizens online with a digital bill of rights and a complete overhaul of state-sponsored surveillance if they form part of the next government.
The party’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election also lends support for a green economy, investment in low-carbon innovations and economic policies that would promote the UK as a global “leader” in technology.
“Liberal Democrats believe security and liberty are two sides of the same coin: you cannot have one without the other,” reads the document. “The police and intelligence agencies do vital work to protect the public and we are rightly proud of them. But we always have to be vigilant that the state does not overreach itself, as it has done at times through corruption, heavy-handedness or illiberal laws.”
Privacy as the norm
“There will be a complete overhaul of surveillance powers in 2016. We need to ensure this and other opportunities are seized as a chance to control excessive state power, and ensure that in an era when surveillance is easier than ever before, we maintain the right to privacy and free speech.
“Privacy should always be the norm for personal data, meaning surveillance must always be justified and proportionate and any demand to read private encrypted communications must be targeted and proportionate.”
The Lib Dems say they are opposed to the “blanket collection” of the content or metadata UK resident’s personal communications and this should only be done when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or to prevent threats to life. The collection of journalist’s data under RIPA would only be permissible with judicial authority and the reporter in question would be able to dispute any such attempt in court.
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Digital Bill of Rights
The Digital Bill of Rights would enshrine in law the right for individuals to control their own personal data, ensure privacy policies for online services and apps are easier to understand and permit the use of strong encryption.
Ministerial vetoes on the release of the Freedom of Information Act would be banned, while consyumers would have the right to access data businesses hold on them in an “open and reusable format.”
The Freedom of Information Act would be extended to cover private firms delivering public services and public service providers would be forced to use the highest standards of data protection, with data anonymised wherever possible. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would be granted more power and serious data breaches could be punished with custodial sentences.
The technology industry would be used to stimulate economic growth, building on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the cluster of hi-tech businesses around Cambridge. More government services would be moved online, with provisions made to narrow the digital divide, and the Lib Dems have committed to providing superfast broadband to 99.9 percent of the population.
“The UK has a competitive advantage in key sectors of the modern economy that have the capacity to transform our lives,” said the manifesto. “The UK’s digital sector is growing at a rate of over 10 percent a year, employing nearly 1.5 million people. 15 percent of all new companies last year were digital companies. We need to support this important sector of our economy.”
“[We will] Increase research and development and commercialisation support in four key low-carbon technologies where Britain could lead the world: tidal power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles,” said the party.
Coding would be retained in the national curriculum, while the Lib Dems would promote the training of teachers teaching STEM subjects. Apprenticeships and vocational courses would also help this technological vision, while foreign students would be given six month ‘post study’ visas to allow them to search for a job within six months of graduating.
The party would also order a review of the controversial work capability assessment, previously contracted to Atos, and would encourage GPs to offer appointments over Skype.
The General Election takes place on 7 May, with the Conservatives, Labour, Greens and UKIP already publishing their manifestos earlier this week.
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