Lib Dems wheel out Digital Rights Bill pledge as election sweetener

We've been talking about this for years, honest, sez Cambs candidate

Election 2015 The Liberal Democrats have announced a new Digital Rights Bill which they want to introduce if they form part of a new coalition government after the general election.

A press release from Nick Clegg's political party describes the bill as necessary "following a series of disturbing news reports" after much-publicised data snafus, including the ongoing Care.data debacle.

The Lib Dems have been uneasy coalition partners with the Conservatives on privacy issues, and particularly roused the ire of Home Secretary Theresa May by blocking the Snoopers' Charter – also known as the Communications Data Bill – which the party thinks is incompatible with basic civil liberties.

Claiming that consecutive Conservative and Labour governments have eroded the privacy and rights of citizens and businesses alike, the Lib Dems claim their Digital Bill of Rights would ensure that personal data would be subject to the control of the individual to whom it refers.

When asked why the “public consultation” was taking place at such a late point by The Register, Julian Huppert, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, said that talks had actually begun a year ago with experts. Huppert explained: "Ideally, in government, you should have a large amount of pre-legislative screening. [And] we are aiming to get this Bill in within the first six months."

The Digital Rights Bill, said Huppert, is not just an election pledge but instead is the product of a long-term party ambition to secure civil liberties. He pointed to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) that had been quickly bundled through Parliament last year.

"We can be very proud of the exchanges we made for DRIPA and the constraints [now] applied to communications data retention, including the time limitations, the firm sunset clause and an overall review of RIPA," Huppert told The Register. "Voters should know that there is only one party consistently raising [privacy] issues in Parliament."

The Liberal Democrats are now inviting voters to complete a survey, and then submit comments and feedback regarding the Digital Rights Bill via email.

According to the party's consultation document, the Bill has four main aims:

  • Ensuring that the civil and human rights that apply in the physical world also apply online.
  • Establishing the key rights that are particularly to the digital sphere.
  • Ensuring greater transparency around the ways in which government and private companies use personal data.
  • Protecting and empowering citizens to take control of their own data and to make informed choices about their digital lives.

The General Election will be held on 7 May. Voters must be registered with their Local Authority by 20 April. ®

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