Wednesday 18 May 2016

Queen's Speech

I'm reading through the BBC's summary of the Queen's speech.  I have to say a lot of this seems a bit ill thought out...

Digital Economy Bill (UK-wide)

  • Every UK household will have legal right to a fast broadband connection
  • Minimum speed of 10Mbps to be guaranteed through Broadband Universal Service Obligation
  • Properties in the "remotest areas" may have to contribute to cost of installation
Starts off sounding ok, but then we get to the last point and I wonder how this is much different from the current situation.  Telcos are already building out fast broadband in non-remote areas, and if you're in a remote area you can already pay (sometimes a lot) to have fast broadband installed.

I wonder whether they are putting cost restrictions on that or accelerating the time scales, because on the surface this doesn't seem to change much...
  • Right to automatic compensation when broadband service goes down
Great, but who's going to be made to pay the compensation?  If ISPs utilising BT Wholesale's infrastructure are expected to hand out compensation for BT's problems, that seems grossly unfair unless BT are made to reimburse those ISPs.  BT needs to be incentive to fix problems with their network, rather than punishing the (often quite small) ISPs who rely on it.
  • Companies must get consent before sending promotional spam emails, with fines for transgressors
I really don't understand this one - we have already had exactly this law for 13 years, in the form of the The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 ("PECR").  The problem is that the regulator rarely does much to enforce the law.  Passing a new law that basically says exactly what an existing law already says isn't going to help anything - either the regulator needs to be incentivised to take action against companies who are in breach of the regulations, or the recipients of spam need to be empowered to sue the spammers themselves.
The current situation is that recipients of spam who sue spammers have to argue that the spam has caused them a material loss which must be reimbursed rather than being able to impose a punitive fine.  Spammers will often argue in court that the financial cost of a single spam is trivial and the courts have sometimes agreed and let them off the hook.  This could easily be fixed by implementing legislation that awards the recipient a fixed amount per spam.
  • All websites containing pornographic images to require age verification for access
This strikes me as a waste of time and will end up much like the pointless cookie law.  Any website with user-submitted content (i.e. anything that *could* be pornographic) will implement an annoying popup age verification page.  And of course, anyone under age will just click through it anyway.

Education for All Bill (Mainly England only)

  • Powers to convert under-performing schools in "unviable" local authorities to academies
  • Goal of making every school an academy but no compulsion to do so
...Despite there being no evidence that academies do any better than other schools...

Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill (England and Wales)

 We can't have an official government announcement without the usual "scare everyone shitless so they let us do what we like" section, but...
  • Ofcom to have power to regulate internet-streamed material from outside EU
How's that going to work?  Are Ofcom going to be able to force ISPs to censor traffic without a court order?  Sounds concerning.  To be clear, ISPs are already required to censor stuff if a court tells them to.  So this just sounds like its designed to short-circuit due process and being justified with "otherwise the terrorists will kill you all" and "think of the children" as usual.

Intellectual Property Bill (UK-wide)

  • Exempting lawyers and other professional advisers from liability for threatening legal action in certain cases
Allowing people to bully folks with empty threats sounds like a bad plan to me - we already see this stuff time and time again with US patent law, so removing penalties for doing so in the UK doesn't seem smart.  Call me cynical maybe this is because the government is run by lawyers?

Investigatory Powers Bill

  • Overhaul of laws governing how the state gathers and retains private communications or other forms of data to combat crime
  • Broadband and mobile phone providers will be compelled to hold a year's worth of communications data
  • Creation of new Investigatory Powers Commissioner
I'm not sure anything more needs to be said on this - the IP bill has been in discussion for ages and basically works by treating everyone in the UK as a criminal and spying on everything they do on the off-chance that a crime needs to be pinned on them later on.  The government has received an overwhelming amount of evidence from experts explaining why the bill is largely unworkable, will massively erode the liberties of law abiding citizens and undermine the British software industry, whilst doing precisely nothing to help the authorities stop criminals; But the evidence has been completely ignored and the bill steam-rollered through regardless, on a fast track designed to reduce debate.

Bill of Rights (Subject to consultation)

  • Plans for a British bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act will be published in "due course" and subject to consultation
Replacing the Human Rights Act just scares the crap out of me.  The only reason for doing so is if you want to avoid giving some people their human rights...