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net.wars: Wish list

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 07 May 2010


It's 2am on election night, so of course no one can think about anything except the returns. Reported so far: 57 of 650 seats. Swing from Labour to Conservative: 4 percent.

Wendy M Grossman

The worst news of the night so far is that people have been turned away from polling stations because the queues couldn't be processed fast enough to get everyone through before the official closing time of 10pm. Creative poll workers locked the unvoted inside the station and let them vote. Uncreative ones sent them home, or tried to – I'm glad to see there were angry protests and, in some cases, sit-ins. Incredibly, some people couldn't vote because their stations ran out of ballot papers. In one area, hundreds of postal ballots are missing. It's an incredible shambles considering Britain's centuries of experience of running elections. Do not seize on this mess as an excuse to bring in electronic voting, something almost every IT security expert warns is a very bad idea. Print some more ballot papers, designate more polling stations, move election day to Saturday.

Reported: 69 Swing: 3.8 percent: Both Conservatives and LibDems have said they will scrap the ID card. Whether they'll follow through remains to be seen. My sense from interviews with Conservative spokespeople for articles in the last year is that they want to scrap large IT projects in favor of smaller, more manageable ones undertaken in partnership with private companies. That should spell death for the gigantic National Identity Register database and profound change for the future of NHS IT; hopefully smaller systems should give individuals more control. It does raise the question of handing over data to private
companies in, most likely, other countries. The way LibDem peers suddenly switched sides on the Digital Economy Act last month dinged our image of the LibDems as the most sensible on <i>net.wars</i> issues of all the parties. Whoever gets in, yes, please, scrap the National Identity Register and stick to small, locally grown IT projects that serve their users. That means us.

Reported: 82. Swing: 3.6 percent: Repeal the Digital Economy Act and take time out for a rethink and public debate. The copyright industries are not going to collapse without three-strikes and disconnection notices. Does the UK really want laws that France has rejected?

Reported: 104. Swing: 4.1 percent: Coincidentally, today I received today a letter "inviting" me to join a study on mobile phones and brain cancer; I would be required to answer periodic surveys about my phone use. The explanatory leaflet notes: "Imperial College will review your health directly through routine medical and other health-related records" using my NHS number, name, address, and date of birth – for the next 20 to 30 years. Excuse me? Why not ask me to report relevant health issues, and request more detailed access only if I report something relevant? This Labour government has fostered this attitude of We Will Have It All. I'd participate in the study if I could choose what health information I give; I'm not handing over untrammeled
right of access. New government: please cease to regard our health data as yours to hand over "for research purposes" to whomever you feel like.


Do not insult our intelligence and knowledge by claiming that anonymizing data protects our privacy; such data can often be very easily reidentified.

Reported: 120. Swing: 3.9 percent: Reform libel law Create a public interest defense for scientific criticism, streamline the process, and lower costs for defendants. Re-allocate the burden of proof to the plaintiff. Stop hearing cases with little or no connection to the UK.

Reported: 149. Swing: 4.3 percent: While you're reforming legal matters, require small claims court to hear cases in which photographers (and other freelances) pursue publishers who have infringed their copyright. Photographers say these courts typically kick such "specialist" cases up to higher levels, making it impracticably expensive to get paid.

Reported: 231. Swing: 4.8 percent: Any government that's been in power as long as Labour currently has is going to seem tired and in need of new ideas. But none of the complaints above – the massive growth in surveillance, the lack of regard for personal privacy, the sheer cluelessness about IT – knocked Labour down. Even lying about the war didn't do it. It was, as Clinton's campaign posted on its office walls, the economy. Stupid.

Reported: 327. Swing: 5 percent: Scrap ContactPoint, the (expensive, complicated) giant database intended to track children through their school days to adulthood – and, by the time they get there, most likely beyond. Expert reports the government commissioned and paid for advised against taking the risk of data breaches. Along with it modernize data protection instead of data retention.

Reported: 626. Swing: 5.3 percent: A hung Parliament (as opposed to hanging chad). Good. For the last 36 years Britain has been ruled by an uninterrupted elected dictatorship. It is about time the parties were forced to work together again. Is anyone seriously in doubt that the problems the country has are bigger than any one party's interests? Bring on proportional representation.
Like they have in Scotland.


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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).