Goodbye Gordon: The Labour Tech Legacy

From ID Cards and the Digital Economy Act to YouTube, Gordon Brown met tech pitfalls, but there are some bright spots for new Prime Minister David Cameron to build on

As Conservative Party leader David Cameron takes his seat at the helm of British politics, what kind of a technological landscape will he be walking into? eWEEK Europe takes a look at the IT legacy left by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Digital Britain

The technological preoccupations of the previous government were largely dictated by the Digital Britain project, launched in October 2008 as an attempt to propel the UK to the forefront of digital and telecommunications innovation and help beat the recession.

One of the principal recommendations of the project was to boost digital participation, through investment in “next generation broadband”, which would provide fast Internet access to everyone in the country by 2012. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson also placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of protecting digital copyright and tackling illegal file-sharing.

However, the attempts of Gordon Brown’s government to improve Britain’s status as a digital leader were somewhat overshadowed by accusations from the European Commission in 2009, claiming that the government had failed to protect its citizens from behavioural ad targeting software – known as Phorm – which contravened EU e-privacy and personal data protection rules. The Prime Minister’s office said this was actually an issue for the Information Commissioner.

Less than a month after the formal launch of Digital Britain, digital minister Tom Watson and communications minister Lord Carter both resigned from their posts. The Digital Britain role was partly taken up by Internet entrepreneur and founder of, Martha Lane Fox, who became the government’s first champion for Digital Inclusion and headed a cabinet Digital Public Services Unit.

Brown also appointed two of the UK’s biggest tech industry figures, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Alan Sugar, to help his government better engage with the Internet and boost its business credentials. Following their appointments, the government became involved in a number of IT projects which – for good or bad – will continue to have repercussions for the next constitution.

Here is eWEEK Europe’s top 10 list of tech highs and lows for which Gordon Brown will be remembered:

1. Phorm

The EC accused the UK government of exposing British people to behavioural ad targeting as BT tried out controversial Phorm software, which intercepts and monitors user actions – in some cases, without the user’s consent. The UK’s failure to clamp down on Phorm was further exacerbated by reports that one of Phorm’s non-executive directors, Kip Meek, had been advising the government on Internet issues. The EC threatened to refer the case to the European Court of Justice, but action on the issue seems to have ground to a halt.