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The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign

Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

April 11, 2017
5 min read


Sophia DrakopoulouSophia Drakopoulou is senior lecturer in Media Communications and Culture at Middlesex University


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(Photo of the Digital Liberties launch event at Parliament)

The cross-party Digital Liberties campaign (#DigitalLiberties) seeks to establish a constitutional right to digital liberties in Britain.

It plans to do this either through a People’s Charter of Digital Liberties or through a British Constitution that incorporates the rights of digital citizens. With a view to introducing a People’s Charter of Digital Liberties in Parliament, we are crowd-sourcing public opinion on the topic. The internet is not just a commercial space; it is a community space, a learning space, and a creative space. Therefore, access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water. More should be invested in infrastructure to connect remote places in the UK so that both the young and the elderly can benefit from online access.

Our actions online should not be governed by fear of surveillance. The rights of everyone, including children, should be protected online. People should own the data they create, or at least be able to gain tangible returns for the data they give away for free to companies. Irrespective of age, everyone should have the right to digital education. When I walk down a physical street I know I have certain rights as a citizen that are protected by law. The same is not true for the often-invisible, digital traces I leave behind as I walk. My phone emits its global position as it searches for Wi-Fi connections. To get to my current location, I have used my Oyster card, which tracks my transport routes around the city. My phone is logged into a social network that records my location on its system. These personal digital traces do not belong to me; in many cases, they can be used and sold by the companies that recorded them.

We have a great opportunity to address afresh all the grey areas of the law regarding digital citizenship

If I use a public Wi-Fi connection, the company providing the Wi-Fi may keep my browsing history and some personal details from the device I’m using. For the sake of convenience, we trust – or assume – that we will be protected. Often, we are wrong. No law fully protects our human rights online. And that’s where the problem lies. Privacy, the right to education, and freedom of speech are fundamental human rights and should apply as much online as well as offline. Around the world, there have been several attempts to address online citizenship. Brazil and Italy have introduced Bills of Rights for the Digital Citizen. The EU has introduced directives and modified laws to protect the rights of citizens online. While these are well-intended, such as the ‘Cookie Directive‘, they are often poorly informed, full of dangerous loopholes, and obsolete by the time they are passed.

Patches of laws and directives have attempted to address some aspects of our lives and actions online. But, the rights of citizens online have not been addressed in their entirety, and vital regulatory underpinnings that determine how technology can be built and deployed, such as network neutrality, data protection, and copyright are among the most-lobbied areas of legislation.

The UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU opens a vast number of complex questions that will take many years to decide. Unknowns include whether Britain will remain within the Council of Europe and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (both of which are separate bodies from the EU), or create a new British constitution incorporating a new Human Rights Act. No matter how these events play out, the situation presents a great opportunity to address afresh all the grey areas of the law regarding digital citizenship. In the meantime, the internet and related technologies continue to evolve quickly, and large businesses will also see an opportunity to pursue their own agendas.

The internet belongs to everyone. We should actively participate in the making of a new bill of rights that addresses our rights as citizens online. The time to act is now! If you agree with all or at least one of the assertions above, please visit our website, learn more about digital citizenship, use our hashtag: #DigitalLiberties, and tell us what you think! From January 2017 we will conduct a series of events all around Britain to collect people’s opinions about digital citizenship and we will present these to Parliament for debate. Depending on the course of action Britain takes, we will campaign either to introduce a People’s Charter of Digital Liberties or to incorporate digital citizenship rights into a new British Constitution.

This article is from a collection of pieces titled Our Digital Rights to the City, you can access the full booklet via meatspacepress.org and Red Pepper will be republishing individual articles over the coming weeks. The collection was edited by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham, with design by Irene Beltrame

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
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Sophia DrakopoulouSophia Drakopoulou is senior lecturer in Media Communications and Culture at Middlesex University


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