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“Until Politicians Make the Effort to Understand the Internet, They Must Leave it Alone”

Alex Wickham’s take on the recent comments from David Cameron, and the general inability (unwillingness) of politicians to understand the Internet:

In the first two weeks of 2015 we have already seen several chilling examples of the state seeking to curb freedom of expression on the internet. Yesterday, Cameron committed the Conservative Party to introducing “comprehensive” legislation to further extend internet surveillance laws. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, summed up the Tory position: “I’m not interested in this civil liberties stuff. If they’re a threat, I want their emails and calls listened to”.…

…Yet, patently, politicians do not understand the internet. Put on the spot during a Q&A about Snapchat, a mobile app used mainly by young people to send pictures, Cameron threatened to ban it.

The attitude, and lack of understanding of what they (the politicians) are saying, is worrying enough. But then:

Then there is the even more sinister behaviour of the Electoral Commission, the body which regulates elections in the UK. Under the guise of Cameron’s shoddy Lobbying Act, they have written intimidating letters to political bloggers warning them they have to abide by new rules dictating what they can and cannot say.

I’d not heard about this use of the Lobbying Act against bloggers (I try to stay up-to-date with the news where UK politics, civil liberties, and technology meet), so that’s worrying in itself. It’s a very gross misapplication of the law — entirely designed to limit speech — and has no place in an open democracy.

Just because politicians do not understand the internet, it does not give them the right to impinge on the freedoms of every person who uses it. If they want to come up with serious policies about how to stop the bad things that happen online, they first have to make the effort to understand how the internet works.