spiked proposals: IT

The government should: aid the provision of an infrastructure; resist restrictions on mobile phone masts; stop treating ISPs as publishers; review intellectual property rights; stop eroding our privacy online; and recognise that IT will not solve the problems of education.

Various Authors

Topics Politics

To help develop the potential of IT, the government should:

  1. Aid the provision of an infrastructure

    The UK is lagging behind in the provision of broadband internet access. British Telecom’s implementation of ADSL (fast internet over existing telephone wires) has been chaotic. The opening up of exchanges to other operators has still not happened. And cable companies seem more interested in TV and telephone services than in fast internet connections.

    The main political parties mention infrastructure only in relation to schools gaining access to the net. This is like avoiding the need for new roads by adding driving lessons to the national curriculum.

    The government should:

  • encourage the rapid development of fibre-optic cable for internet access as the best available technology. And it should recognise that in order for this to happen, it cannot rely on the market alone.

  • Resist restrictions on mobile phone masts

    Many councils now refuse to allow mobile phone masts on their property because of the supposed risk of radiation to the public – despite the fact that many of these properties are ideally located for such services. And there are moves to tighten the rules on planning permission for masts (1).

    But there is no concrete evidence that mobile phone masts cause harm. This kind of technophobia needs to be weighed against the massive popularity and convenience of mobile phone services. Introducing restrictions on masts could also hamper the roll-out of third-generation, internet-enabled phones.

    The government should:

    • Put pressure on councils to allow masts to be erected on council property.

    • Withdraw plans to introduce further planning permission requirements for erecting masts.

  • Don’t hold ISPs responsible for defamation

    The preliminary judgement in the case of Laurence Godfrey v Demon Internet Limited in 1999 set a precedent for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) being held legally responsible for defamatory material that they host (2). This encourages ISPs to act as censors and creates a chilling effect upon free speech online.

    Short of repealing or fundamentally amending the 1996 Defamation Act (3), which poses a broader threat to free speech (4), the government should at the very least:

    • Amend section 1 of the 1996 Defamation Act, which defines ‘Responsibility for publication’ (5), so as specifically to exclude ISPs from responsibility for defamation.

  • Review intellectual property rights

    Intellectual property law allows for the patenting of new ideas in order to make innovation cost-effective. But this law can also be used to create spurious patents that hold back development. The growth of the IT sector has seen business processes patented as prior art simply by virtue of being conducted online, lowering standards of innovation (6).

    The government should:

    • Devote greater resources to developing the European Commission’s MIPEX (7), helping make it into a world-class patent database.

    • Devote greater resources and personnel to the UK Patent Office (8), allowing for faster patent and copyright processing.

    • Develop guidelines to prevent the threat of ‘dilution’ posed to patents by changing standards of innovation in the digital age.

  • Don’t erode our privacy

    The New Labour government claimed to be concerned about privacy online – it welcomed the European Data Protection Directive (9) and ushered in the 1998 Data Protection Act (10) and the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 (11).

    But despite these consumer-friendly initiatives, the government rushed through the introduction of the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act (12), which allows police and security services to intercept emails, and employers to monitor their workers’ emails and use of the internet.

    The government should:

    • Stop confusing data protection and other consumer rights with genuine erosions of privacy.

    • Repeal the RIP Act, the biggest threat to online privacy in the UK.

  • Recognise that IT will not solve the problems of education

    All the main parties say that they will expand access to computers in schools. But while computers can be useful for children, for research purposes and accessing all kinds of information, they are no substitute for being taught by a good teacher. In schools, IT should be a tool of education, not the object of education.

    The government should:

    • Continue to expand the availability of computers and the internet in schools, but not as a substitute for books and teacher training.

    • Commission high-quality and comprehensive teaching materials to be available online, especially in subject areas not covered by traditional textbooks.
  • Read on:

    spiked-IT: four principles, by Sandy Starr and Helene Guldberg


    spiked-issue: Don’t Blow IT

    (1) Mobile firms fear fight over new phone masts, Independent, 21 January 2001. See also Mobile moans, by Joe Kaplinsky

    (2) See Case Analysis of Laurence Godfrey v Demon Internet Limited, by Yaman Akdeniz

    (3) See the 1996 Defamation Act

    (4) See Free speech on trial, by Helene Guldberg

    (5) See Section 1 of the 1996 Defamation Act

    (6) For evidence that software patents in the US have harmed innovation, see Intellectual Property on the Internet: What’s Wrong with Conventional Wisdom? by Jim Bessen and Eric Maskin

    (7) See the MIPEX section of the UK Patent Office website

    (8) MIPEX stands for Message-based Industrial Property Information Exchange. See the UK Patent Office website

    (9) See Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data

    (10) See the 1998 Data Protection Act

    (11) See the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000

    (12) See the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act 2000

    To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

    Topics Politics


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