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Jeremy Corbyn outlines digital proposals



Labour leadership candidate includes digital citizen passports, an Open Knowledge Library, and compulsory open source in Digital Democracy Manifesto

Jeremy Corbyn has put forward a bunch of policy proposals for the future of digital technology in the UK, including plans for digital citizen passports and a portal for learning resources.

The defending Labour leadership candidate has published a Digital Democracy Manifesto as part of his campaign to fight off challenger Owen Smith.

In a document that contains a combination of fresh thinking and ideas that look very familiar – without referring to existing policies – Corbyn’s team has attempted to link the potential of digital to his vision of a more populist democratic process.

One of the stand-outs for the public service element is the creation of a digital citizen passport to be used when interacting with services, and possibly for commercial transactions. It could also be used for automatic enrolment on the electoral register when the holder moves.

Where it would stand in relation to GOV.UK Verify – the online digital identity platform that went live for a number of central government services in May – is unexplained. In fact there is no mention of Verify. UKAuthority has asked Corbyn’s press office but had received no reply when publishing this story.

Broadband obligation

Similarly, the document includes a commitment to a universal service network – the high speed broadband that is a cornerstone of the Government’s digital infrastructure policy. It says the National Investment Bank – one of Corbyn’s foundation economic proposals – would fund the public sector backbone, with regional banks supporting local access cooperatives and Ofcom coordinating private telcos’ contributions.

While it is not included in the manifesto document, Corbyn's team released background details that include an emphasis on the potential for 'fibre-to-the-premises' (FTTP) broadband, which can provide speeds of up to 1Gbps, compared with the 10Mbps under its the Government’s existing universal service obligation for high speed broadband.

It said the maximum cost for this would be £25 billion spread over a number of years.

There is a proposal for an Open Knowledge Library, a free-to-use online hub of learning resources, which would include all state funded research and host virtual meeting places for education professionals and students.

Open source upgrade

Another is for all publicly funded software and hardware to be made available under open source licence, with public authorities encouraged to upgrade their IT with what the document describes as “these improved versions of democratic processing”, and financial rewards for public sector staff who contribute to open source projects.

Related to this would be efforts to encourage all children and adults to learn how to write code and build hardware.

Other proposals include:

  • Providing resources for students of all ages to develop the skills for analysing and making media.
  • An update to the BBC charter to nurture and broadcast programmes from local and identity communities.
  • Ofcom to protect network neutrality from discrimination between data streams and manipulation of software algorithms for private gain.
  • The creation of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services.
  • The National Investment Bank and regional banks to finance social enterprises providing websites and apps to support various sectors of the economy.
  • Encouraging the sharing of anonymised information for government and academic research.
  • Drawing up a People’s Charter of Digital Liberties to support their online rights.

Corbyn said the proposals reflect the changing nature of technology and politics.

"With the rapid advances in digital technology, data and information can become sources of inequality and exploitation as well as. It hasn't been easy to ensure democracy always takes place online," he said. "This is why our manifesto we're launching today seeks to democratise the internet."

This story was revised after publication to incorporate additional information from Jeremy Corbyn's team on the broadband proposals.

Opinion: Interesting reading. A handful of worthwhile ideas emerge, such as the Open Knowledge Library and the support for everyone to have the chance to learn software coding. They reflect an appreciation that almost every economic and community service activity now includes a strong element of digital.

But some of the proposals suggest the people behind them have been working in a bubble with no knowledge of existing Government programmes; and those that are interesting are often presented within a utopian vision of people’s democracy that will not impress those with a more pragmatic outlook.

It is likely to be hypothetical, given Corbyn’s remote chance of ever becoming prime minister, but sometimes individual ideas in such documents influence wider thinking, and one or two of those in the manifesto might take root in the technology and policy communities.


Image by Garry Knight from London, CC BY 2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons

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