When IT Meets Politics

April 29, 2018  4:36 PM

No2ID and the Empire Windrush

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

The “scandal” concerning the “Windrush Generation” appears to be collateral damage from the failure to agree coherent policies for sharing public sector identities and personal information after the collapse of proposals for identity cards. The Home Office may have destroyed the landing cards for the Empire Windrush (or sent them to the National Archive) but the passenger lists, (collated by the Department of Transport) are not only in the National Archive but are used in one of their education resource packs . After landing the immigrants would have been given identity and ration cards, the records of which were later used to create central registry of the NHS . The identity card numbers survived as NHS numbers until the 1980s when they were  restructured into the current format . It is also difficult to see how either the Windrush Generation, or their children, would have been able to get jobs or claim benefits without National Insurance numbers, now in the hands of HMRC.

I wonder how many of those who successfully opposed the introduction of ID Cards believe that Home Office staff should not be allowed, let alone encouraged or required, to look across the records of other Departments before deporting those without Home Office “recognised documentation” such as a residents permit or passport.  Then comes the status of records transferred to the National Archive after the full implementation of GDPR.  When it comes to Government, Health and Welfare records the right to be forgotten should be an informed choice, not a default.

I look forward to the day when GDS Verify and the ID programmes of other Government Departments (including the separate ID systems for those at  School and those at College or University, with a ban on dual use) enter the real world and offer or recognise identity systems that do something else useful – like age checking (preferably to PAS 1296 so as to be able to tell the real from the fake) before giving access to controlled or sensitive products and services. Meanwhile perhaps the time has also come to revisit the original concept, under Home Secretary Michael Howard, of an entitlement card , issued via local not central government – giving as much (or little) access to benefits/housing/health and as “non-residents” have in Denmark, Germany or Holland. If so, that could indeed be an existential threat to Whitehall (and Home Office).

I could go on but the moral of the Windrush Saga is – “Be very careful what you wish for ….  when it comes to preventing data sharing and demanding the right to be forgotten“.


March 24, 2018  12:55 PM

Is the Facebook furore another piece of Fake News

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

The story of how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data collected by an Academic intermediary to supposedly help Remain “steal” the UK referendum campaign and Trump “steal” the US Presidential campaign can be read at many levels with many different questions.

  1. What was so offensive/different about the Facebook processes for encouraging us to share our personal data (so that they can make it available to advertisers, researchers and others to enable them to target their messages), while making its privacy settings unintelligible to anyone other than a Californian geek.
  2. What was so offensive/different about the conduct of academic conducting large scale psychometric research which he proceeded to turn to commercial advantage in ways which the “Big Data Institutes of many of the worlds leading Universities (including Oxford, Cambridge, Southampton and UCL) are exploring, encouraged by bodies like the Open Data Institute
  3. What was so offensive/different about the behaviour of Cambridge Analytica, compared to those who ran similar exercises to help the President Obama get elected, the EU and Government supported Remain Campaigners to fight a gaggle of Brexiteers and/or Momentum to turn a snap election into a bloody nose for those who called it.

The BIG question, however, is whether this is a storm in a teacup, a minor hiccup in an inexorable march towards the dictatorship of the sysadmins or a watershed, with those who control our access to the on-line world, including over 60% of all traffic over the Internet, about to be brought to heel?

But, if so, who is about to bring them to heel? Governments (who their lobbyists can buy) or Advertisers (who they have to persuade to keep spending)?

One of the delightful ironies of this controversy is that it took place during the 101st meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force in London. The IETF comprises the 15 – 20,000 engineers who maintain the building blocks that enable the global inter-operability on which the Internet depends. 1,200 of them were gathered in London this week – and no journalists asked for their views. In consequence their one “political” meeting, a discussion in the House of Lords on “How to build trust between politicians and engineers in tackling the security (or otherwise) of the Internet of Things”, was able to have a quiet and constructive discussion. That meeting was organised by the Internet Society (the nearest the IETF has to an oversight body), ICANN (which looks after the addressing system) and the Digital Policy Alliance.

That meeting identified that the problems arise with the processes used when the building blocks are assembled into applications, increasingly in ways that no-one foresaw. The alleged abuses of social media data for political ends are a good example,. So too are the weaknesses that allow the spoofing of addresses, facilitating impersonation and complicating enforcement. But neither IETF nor ICANN has policing powers and it would be unrealistic to expect the Internet Society to try to boycott those who do not follow good practice – especially since the latter can afford to fund the best lawyers and lobbyists that money can buy. The meeting was attended by the chairs of both the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Society. The panel for the discussion included the Chairman of the IETF Internet Architecture Board, the Chief Internet Technology Officer of the Internet Society, the Chief Executive Officer of ICANN and Baroness Neville-Jones (former security Minister and chairman of the DPA Cybersecurity group). The main achievement of the meeting was to leave the audience with a shared recognition of the problems and the need for ongoing dialogue between policy groups and those who keep the Internet running in order to improve the government policies and the regulatory, certification, quality control and enforcement processes within which the product and service engineers, corporate lawyers and salesmen and their employers operate.

That dry and cautious conclusion provides an essential backdrop for public discussion about what it was that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and their Academic fall-guy did differently (if anything at all) and why “the roof fell in” after a sting operation akin to those offered to the under cover reporters by the CA CEO.

I will conclude with a few more questions:

1. Should the current furore been seen as propaganda for the supposed power of “Big Data” analysis to target online advertising/messaging to, inter alia, persuade a “gullible” electorate  Or is it a set of excuses to enable an introverted and complacent establishment (that lost touch with the electorate) to call for a rerun of history?

I alluded to this argument in my blog on Brexit as an existential threat to the new UK “establishment” but Dominic Cummins makes the argument much better using inside knowledge of who did what. He concludes that story is a set of convenient excuses for those who lost the trust of the electorate . Unfortunately misplaced belief in that power is not only expensive for Corporate advertisers and lucrative to high tech snake oil salesmen, it is politically dangerous. It is akin to the belief of many Germans that the Jews were to blame for the collapse of their Armies on the Western Front at the end of 1918. That led directly to World War 2. Will belief that Trump or the Russians stole the US election or the Brexiteers stole the UK referendum lead us down a similar road? Did the Prime Minister lose her majority in 2017 because the snap election caught no-one save Conservative Office by surprise? Or was it stolen by student activists using social media to organise massively duplicated on-line voter registration and exploit a postal voting system that “would disgrace a banana republic”? Was the use of Facebook for political campaigning as mundane as, for example, paying .67p for a targeted advert that was seen by 87 people – albeit on a much larger scale. Or was it really more sinister?

2. How many other “academic researchers” have provided plausible deniability to similarly egregious data collection from, for example, UK NHS and US Veteran’s Administration patient records?

This question goes to the heart of Big Data governance models and the idea that academic researchers are somehow more virtuous than, for example pharmaceutical or insurance companies. The latter take security, privacy and data protection very seriously because leaks cost commercial advantage and may even destroy the business (if a rival patents compounds before a decision to incur the cost of safety testing). It is not “just” a matter of fines. Meanwhile academics have a tendency to believe that their life saving (or reputation making) research is more important than, for example, the privacy of vulnerable patients who might be of interest to the state or the media (for whatever reason).

3. Who owns my data? Me? The state? A faceless corporation that persuaded me to give them uninformed consent in return for access to an app? Which of them, if any, is serious about protecting my data from those who really might be a threat to me? 

Emily Sheffield in the Evening Standard summarises well our inability to understand the privacy settings of services which make it all too easy for us to give permission for sharing with those we have never heard of. She also raises some killer questions for both those who believe in the value of Big Data and those who believe in the importance of blanket data protection (as with the GDPR) as opposed to genuinely informed choice and targeted action against those guilty of serious abuse.

4.  Which of us actually care about protecting the lies, half truths and exagerations we post about ourselves on social media?

Back in 2008 I was a UK representative at the workshop in Bled which led to EU Etica Project.  The conclusions of our workshop on the Ethics of Public Service delivery were edited out of the final report but I covered some of them in a blog written about the time the project came to an end. . In the course of the workshop I came to appreciate that those from Eastern Europe found it hard to comprehend the Western naivety with regard to those claiming to want to help them, including those wanting to do so on-line. They had a simple approach – never ever tell the truth on-line unless there is a very good reason to do so. Sooner or later all that you do on-line will be collated and used against you. You therefore create a “safe” persona (or more than one) and use them for all on-line transactions that you cannot do anonymously from an Internet café.  Today I avoid investing in those who pay for on-line pop-up adverts for products I have just bought or hotels in towns I recently visited. I also avoid sites where response times are clogged with data collection spyware and avoid search engines where what I want to find is hidden among promoted results.

4. Why was harvesting Facebook data (and other big data analytics exercises to target voters) praiseworthy when used to help elect Obama but not when used to elect Trump?

This is a bit like asking why the dirty tricks and lies used to get John F  Kennedy elected and to prepare for his re-election were unacceptable when used by Richard Nixon.

5. Will any Facebook fine go into the ICO’s budget – whether as an ad hoc top up or as part of a switch to using “the proceeds of crime” to fund Internet law enforcement – including by the Trading Standards officers who are in the front line alongside the Information Commissioner and the City of London Police?

A £billion fine on Facebook for the processes which allowed its data to be harvested would transform the ability of the Information Commissioner to do her job and set a welcome precedent for raising the funds for effective law enforcement action, at all levels  to tackle on-line crime and misbehaviour. It would also have a very powerful motivational effect and cause service providers to take more robust action to enforce their contractual conditions and reduce the risk of exposing third parties who might take legal action against them.

6. What, if any, are the roles of the IETF, ICANN and Internet Society in using the opportunity to help address some of the taboo ways in which the Internet can be manipulated, whether by adding new security building blocks, promoting the use of those that already exist, or informing politicians and regulators? so that thel atter can enforce better practice in assembling them into products and services. 

The debates will run and run. There is something for every conspiracy theorist, technology enthusiast and luddite.

Those who are serious about finding a constructive way forward should join the Digital Policy Alliance and/or the Internet Society and help organise well-informed follow up debate. But that will require honest enquiry and rational argument about balance of risk in a world of evolving technologies and differing values. And honesty and rationality are all too rare in politic al debate. And the hoi polloi understand balance of risk (as in betting odds and having a flutter at impossible odds on the lottery as a way of keeping hope alive) rather better than the intelligentsia.


March 2, 2018  9:42 PM

Read the PMs Brexit speech – for why the BBC is so anti-Brexit

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

The difference between the wording in the BBC news coverage of the Prime Minister’s Speech , which lists “Mutual recognition of broadcasting rules to allow UK channels to continue to be seen in Europe”  and the wording in the full text (below)  may well explain why the BBC is so anti-Brexit that the British public notices . The wording in the PM speech reads as follows:

On broadcasting, we recognise that we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the EU as we do now. Currently, because of the “country of origin” principle, a company based in the UK can be licensed by Ofcom and broadcast into any EU member state and vice versa.

The relevant directive will not apply to the UK, as we leave the EU, and relying solely on precedents will hurt consumers and businesses on both sides.

The UK’s creative hub leads to the development of products that European consumers want – the UK currently provides around 30% of the channels available in the EU. But equally, many UK companies have pan-European ownership, and there are 35 channels and on-demand services, which are offered in the UK but licensed in the EU.

So we should explore creative options with an open mind, including mutual recognition which would allow for continued transfrontier broadcasting – recognising the enriching role that British broadcasters and programme makers play, not only in British – but more broadly in our common European – culture.

In other words Brexit poses the risk that the BBC, and more particularly BBC Worldwide , will be taken outside the EU territorial licensing regime as part of an exercise to encourage the creative industries as whole. Is that an existential threat or an opportunity? Only time will tell but this helps explain the Ofcom review on the role of the BBC on which I blogged recently.

Meanwhile I think that the lack of detail on digital signifies that Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google will have to pay taxes in the UK, not Luxembourg or the Irish Republic and that UK innovators will not be bound by regulations that we have not helped agree. But it also implies that forward co-operation remains open, particularly on Data Protection and Cyber Security.

On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU. This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.

I spent over thirty years of my life trying, and failing, to make a reality of the Digital Single Market. But it is still easier to make a cross-border online transaction via the US (or some other offshore hub) than direct.  I can therefore hope for the best – a new and more constructive co-operation. But I now suspect that, on balance, we (except for the global multinationals) will be better off out than in. That said, there is a lot of work going on, including (especially?) via the Digital Policy Alliance to try to ensure that Brexit leads to closer and more constructive co-operation where it matters.

Anyway, enough of my speculation – I recommend you read the  full text and then ponder.


I am here today to set out my vision for the future economic partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

There have been many different voices and views in the debate on what our new relationship with the EU should look like. I have listened carefully to them all.

But as we chart our way forward with the EU, I want to take a moment to look back.

Eighteen months ago I stood on Downing Street and addressed the nation for my first time as Prime Minister.

I made this pledge then, to the people that I serve:

I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.

The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.

We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.

When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you.

When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you.

When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you.

When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few.

We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

That pledge, to the people of our United Kingdom is what guides me in our negotiations with the EU.

And for me that means five things:

First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum. It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money. And a vote for wider change, so that no community in Britain would ever be left behind again. But it was not a vote for a distant relationship with our neighbours.

Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure. After Brexit both the UK and the EU want to forge ahead with building a better future for our people, not find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down.

Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security. People in the UK voted for our country to have a new and different relationship with Europe, but while the means may change our shared goals surely have not – to work together to grow our economies and keep our people safe.

Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy. A nation of pioneers, innovators, explorers and creators. A country that celebrates our history and diversity, confident of our place in the world; that meets its obligations to our near neighbours and far off friends, and is proud to stand up for its values.

And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.

We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate. As Prime Minister it is my duty to represent all of our United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; north and south, from coastal towns and rural villages to our great cities.

So these are the five tests for the deal that we will negotiate.

Implementing the decision of the British people; reaching an enduring solution; protecting our security and prosperity; delivering an outcome that is consistent with the kind of country we want to be; and bringing our country together, strengthening the precious union of all our people.


We are now approaching a crucial moment.

There s no escaping the complexity of the task ahead of us. We must not only negotiate our exit from an organisation that touches so many important parts of our national life. We must also build a new and lasting relationship while, given the uncertainty inherent in this negotiation, preparing for every scenario.

But we are making real progress.

At the end of last year, we agreed the key elements of our withdrawal.

We are in the process of turning that agreement into draft legal text. We have made clear our concerns about the first draft the Commission published on Wednesday – but no-one should be in any doubt about our commitment to the Joint Report we agreed in December.

We are close to agreement on the terms of an implementation period which was a key element of December’s deal.

Of course some points of difference remain – but I am confident that we can resolve these issues in the days ahead.

Both the UK and the EU are clear this implementation period must be time-limited and cannot become a permanent solution. But it is vital to give governments, businesses and citizens on both

sides the time they need to prepare for our new relationship.

With this agreed, I want both sides to turn all our attention and efforts to that new relationship.

But before we can do that, we need to set out in more detail what relationship we want, building on my Lancaster House and Florence speeches.

So last month, I spoke in Munich about the security partnership we seek.

And today, I want to talk about the other pillar of that relationship: how we build our economic partnership.


In my speech in Florence, I set out why the existing models for economic partnership either do not deliver the ambition we need or impose unsustainable constraints on our democracy.
For example, the Norway model, where we would stay in the single market, would mean having to implement new EU legislation automatically and in its entirety – and would also mean continued free movement.

Others have suggested we negotiate a free trade agreement similar to that which Canada has recently negotiated with the EU – or trade on World Trade Organisation terms.
But these options would mean a significant reduction in our access to each other’s markets compared to that which we currently enjoy.

And this would mean customs and regulatory checks at the border that would damage the integrated supply chains that our industries depend on and be inconsistent with the commitments that both we and the EU have made in respect of Northern Ireland.

This is a wider issue in our negotiations and I want to dwell on this for a minute.

Successive British governments have worked tirelessly – together with all the parties in Northern Ireland and with the Irish Government – to bring about the historic achievement of peace.
This is an achievement that we should all be proud of, and protect. That is why I have consistently put upholding the Belfast Agreement at the heart of the UK’s approach.
Our departure from the EU causes very particular challenges for Northern Ireland, and for Ireland. We joined the EU together 45 years ago. It is not surprising that our decision to leave has caused anxiety and a desire for concrete solutions.

We have been clear all along that we don’t want to go back to a hard border in Ireland. We have ruled out any physical infrastructure at the border, or any related checks and controls.
But it is not good enough to say, ‘We won’t introduce a hard border; if the EU forces Ireland to do it, that’s down to them’. We chose to leave; we have a responsibility to help find a solution.

But we can’t do it on our own. It is for all of us to work together.

And the Taoiseach and I agreed when we met recently that our teams and the Commission should now do just that.

I want to make one final point. Just as it would be unacceptable to go back to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, it would also be unacceptable to break up the United Kingdom’s own common market by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea.

My personal commitment to this is clear.

As Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom, I am not going to let our departure from the European Union do anything to set back the historic progress that we have made in Northern Ireland – nor will I allow anything that would damage the integrity of our precious Union.


So existing models do not provide the best way forward for either the UK or the EU.

But before I turn to what a new and better model might look like, I want to be straight with people – because the reality is that we all need to face up to some hard facts.

We are leaving the single market. Life is going to be different. In certain ways, our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now. How could the EU’s structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK – or any country – were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?

So we need to strike a new balance. But we will not accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway.

The second hard fact is that even after we have left the jurisdiction of the ECJ, EU law and the decisions of the ECJ will continue to affect us.

For a start, the ECJ determines whether agreements the EU has struck are legal under the EU’s own law – as the US found when the ECJ declared the Safe Harbor Framework for data sharing invalid.

When we leave the EU, the Withdrawal Bill will bring EU law into UK law. That means cases will be determined in our courts. But, where appropriate, our courts will continue to look at the ECJ’s judgments, as they do for the appropriate jurisprudence of other countries’ courts.

And if, as part of our future partnership, Parliament passes an identical law to an EU law, it may make sense for our courts to look at the appropriate ECJ judgments so that we both interpret those laws consistently.

As I said in Munich, if we agree that the UK should continue to participate in an EU agency the UK would have to respect the remit of the ECJ in that regard.

But, in the future, the EU treaties and hence EU law will no longer apply in the UK. The agreement we reach must therefore respect the sovereignty of both the UK and the EU’s legal orders. That means the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK must end. It also means that the ultimate arbiter of disputes about our future partnership cannot be the court of either party.

The next hard fact is this. If we want good access to each other’s markets, it has to be on fair terms. As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments – for example, we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remaining in step with the EU’s.

The UK drove much of the policy in this area and we have much to gain from maintaining proper disciplines on the use of subsidies and on anti-competitive practices.

Furthermore, as I said in Florence, we share the same set of fundamental beliefs; a belief in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights, and that trying to beat other countries’ industries by unfairly subsidising one’s own is a serious mistake.

And in other areas like workers’ rights or the environment, the EU should be confident that we will not engage in a race to the bottom in the standards and protections we set. There is no serious political constituency in the UK which would support this – quite the opposite.

Finally, we need to resolve the tensions between some of our key objectives.

We want the freedom to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world. We want to take back control of our laws. We also want as frictionless a border as possible between us and the EU – so that we don’t damage the integrated supply chains our industries depend on and don’t have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

But there are some tensions in the EU’s position too – and some hard facts for them to face as well.

The Commission has suggested that the only option available to the UK is an ‘off the shelf’ model.

But, at the same time, they have also said that in certain areas none of the EU’s third country agreements would be appropriate.

And the European Council’s Guidelines aspire to a balanced, ambitious, and wide-ranging deal, with common rules in a number of areas to ensure fair and open competition.
This would not be delivered by a Canada-style deal – which would not give them the breadth or depth of market access that they want.

And it is hard to see how it would be in the EU’s interests for the UK’s regulatory standards to be as different as Canada’s.

Finally, we both need to face the fact that this is a negotiation and neither of us can have exactly what we want.


But I am confident we can reach agreement.

We both want good access to each other’s markets; we want competition between us to be fair and open; and we want reliable, transparent means of verifying we are meeting our commitments and resolving disputes.

But what is clear is that for us both to meet our objectives we need to look beyond the precedents, and find a new balance.
As on security, what I am seeking is a relationship that goes beyond the transactional to one where we support each other’s interests.

So I want the broadest and deepest possible partnership – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any Free Trade Agreement anywhere in the world today. And as I will go on to describe we will also need agreements in a range of areas covering the breadth of our relationship.

I believe that is achievable because it is in the EU’s interests as well as ours.

The EU is the UK’s biggest market – and of course the UK is also a big market for the EU. And furthermore, we have a unique starting point, where on day one we both have the same laws and rules.

So rather than having to bring two different systems closer together, the task will be to manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.

To do so, and to realise this level of ambition, there are five foundations that must underpin our trading relationship.

First, our agreement will need reciprocal binding commitments to ensure fair and open competition.

Such agreements are part and parcel of any trade agreement. After all, why would any country enter into a privileged economic partnership without any means of redress if the other party engaged in anti-competitive practices?

But the level of integration between the UK and EU markets and our geographical proximity mean these reciprocal commitments will be particularly important in ensuring that UK business can compete fairly in EU markets and vice versa.

A deep and comprehensive agreement with the EU will therefore need to include commitments reflecting the extent to which the UK and EU economies are entwined.

Second, we will need an arbitration mechanism that is completely independent – something which, again, is common to Free Trade Agreements.

This will ensure that any disagreements about the purpose or scope of the agreement can be resolved fairly and promptly.

Third, given the close relationship we envisage, we will need to have an ongoing dialogue with the EU, and to ensure we have the means to consult each other regularly.

In particular we will want to make sure our regulators continue to work together; as they do with regulators internationally. This will be essential for everything from getting new drugs to patients quickly to maintaining financial stability. We start from the place where our regulators already have deep and long-standing relationships. So the task is maintaining that trust; not building it in the first place.

Fourth, we will need an arrangement for data protection.

I made this point in Munich in relation to our security relationship. But the free flow of data is also critical for both sides in any modern trading relationship too. The UK has exceptionally high standards of data protection. And we want to secure an agreement with the EU that provides the stability and confidence for EU and UK individuals and businesses to achieve our aims in maintaining and developing the UK’s strong trading and economic links with the EU.

That is why we will be seeking more than just an adequacy arrangement and want to see an appropriate ongoing role for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office. This will ensure UK businesses are effectively represented under the EU’s new ‘one stop shop’ mechanism for resolving data protection disputes.

And fifth, we must maintain the links between our people.

EU citizens are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our country. I know that UK nationals are viewed in entirely the same way by communities across the EU. And this is why at every stage of the negotiations, I have put the interests of EU citizens and UK nationals at the heart of our approach.

We are clear that as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country.

But UK citizens will still want to work and study in EU countries – just as EU citizens will want to do the same here, helping to shape and drive growth, innovation and enterprise.

Indeed, businesses across the EU and the UK must be able to attract and employ the people they need. And we are open to discussing how to facilitate these valuable links.

Reciprocal commitments to ensure fair and open competition, an independent arbitration mechanism, an ongoing dialogue, data protection arrangements and maintaining the links between our people. These are the foundations that underpin the ambition of this unique and unprecedented partnership.

It will then need to be tailored to the needs of our economies.

This follows the approach the EU has taken with its trade agreements in the past – and indeed with its own single market as it has developed.

The EU’s agreement with Ukraine sees it align with the EU in some areas but not others. The EU’s agreement with South Korea contains provisions to recognise each others’ approvals for new car models, whereas their agreement with Canada does not. Equally, the EU’s agreement with Canada contains provisions to recognise each others’ testing on machinery; its agreement with South Korea does not.

The EU itself is rightly taking a tailored approach in what it is seeking with the UK. For example, on fisheries, the Commission has been clear that no precedents exist for the sort of access it wants from the UK.

The fact is that every Free Trade Agreement has varying market access depending on the respective interests of the countries involved. If this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking.

Moreover, with all its neighbours the EU has varying levels of access to the Single Market, depending on the obligations those neighbours are willing to undertake.
What would be cherry-picking would be if we were to seek a deal where our rights and obligations were not held in balance.

And I have been categorically clear that is not what we are going to do.

I think it is pragmatic common sense that we should work together to deliver the best outcome for both sides.


Let me start with how we do this for goods.

This is the area where the single market is most established and both the UK and the EU have a strong commercial interest in preserving integrated supply chains that have built up over forty years of our membership.

When it comes to goods, a fundamental principle in our negotiating strategy should be that trade at the UK-EU border should be as frictionless as possible.
This means we don’t want to see the introduction of any tariffs or quotas. And – as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union set out in his speech in Vienna last week – we must ensure that, as now, products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country, to show that they meet the required regulatory standards.

To achieve this we will need a comprehensive system of mutual recognition.

The UK will need to make a strong commitment that its regulatory standards will remain as high as the EU’s. That commitment, in practice, will mean that UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar in the future.

Many of these regulatory standards are themselves underpinned by international standards set by non-EU bodies of which we will remain a member – such as the UN Economic Commission for Europe, which sets vehicle safety standards. Countries around the world, including Turkey, South Africa, South Korea, Japan and Russia, are party to the agreement.

As I said in my speech in Florence this could be achieved in different ways.

Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes.
In some cases Parliament might choose to pass an identical law – businesses who export to the EU tell us that it is strongly in their interest to have a single set of regulatory standards that mean they can sell into the UK and EU markets.

If the Parliament of the day decided not to achieve the same outcomes as EU law, it would be in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access.

And there will need to be an independent mechanism to oversee these arrangements.

We will also want to explore with the EU, the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries: the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

We would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution.

I want to explain what I believe the benefits of this approach could be, both for us and the EU.

First, this associate membership of these agencies is the only way to meet our objective of ensuring that these products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country.

Second, these agencies have a critical role in setting and enforcing relevant rules. And if we were able to negotiate associate membership we would be able to ensure that we could continue to

provide our technical expertise.
Third, associate membership could permit UK firms to resolve certain challenges related to the agencies through UK courts rather than the ECJ.

For example, in the case of Switzerland, associate membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency means that airworthiness certifications are granted by its own aviation authority, and disputes are resolved through its courts. Without its membership, Swiss airlines would need to gain their certifications through another member state or through the Agency, and any dispute would need to be resolved through the ECJ.

Fourth it would bring other benefits too. For example, membership of the European Medicines Agency would mean investment in new innovative medicines continuing in the UK, and it would mean these medicines getting to patients faster as firms prioritise larger markets when they start the lengthy process of seeking authorisations. But it would also be good for the EU because the UK regulator assesses more new medicines than any other member state. And the EU would continue to access the expertise of the UK’s world-leading universities.

And, of course, Parliament would remain ultimately sovereign. It could decide not to accept these rules, but with consequences for our membership of the relevant agency and linked market access rights.

Lastly to achieve as frictionless a border as possible and to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we also need an agreement on customs.

The UK has been clear it is leaving the Customs Union.

The EU has also formed a customs union with some other countries.

But those arrangements, if applied to the UK, would mean the EU setting the UK’s external tariffs, being able to let other countries sell more into the UK without making it any easier for us to sell more to them, or the UK signing up to the Common Commercial Policy. That would not be compatible with a meaningful independent trade policy. It would mean we had less control than we do now over our trade in the world. Neither Leave nor Remain voters would want that.

So we have thought seriously about how our commitment to a frictionless border can best be delivered. And last year, we set out two potential options for our customs arrangement.

Option one is a customs partnership between the UK and the EU. At the border, the UK would mirror the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world, applying the same tariffs and the same rules of origin as the EU for those goods arriving in the UK and intended for the EU. By following this approach, we would know that all goods entering the EU via the UK pay the right EU duties, removing the need for customs processes at the UK-EU border.

But, importantly, we would put in place a mechanism so that the UK would also be able to apply its own tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the UK market. As we have set out previously, this would require the means to ensure that both sides can trust the system and a robust enforcement mechanism.

Option two would be a highly streamlined customs arrangement, where we would jointly agree to implement a range of measures to minimise frictions to trade, together with specific provisions for Northern Ireland.

First, measures to ensure the requirements for moving goods across borders are as simple as possible.

This means we should continue to waive the requirement for entry and exit declarations for goods moving between the UK and the EU.
And we should allow goods moving between the UK and the rest of the world to travel through the EU without paying EU duties and vice versa.

Second, measures to reduce the risk of delays at ports and airports. For example, recognising each other’s “trusted traders” schemes and drawing on the most advanced IT solutions so that vehicles do not need to stop at the border.

Third, we should continue our cooperation to mitigate customs duty and security risks.

And fourth, measures to reduce the cost and burden of complying with customs administrative requirements, including by maximising the use of automation.
And recognising the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, and our shared commitments to avoiding a hard border, we should consider further specific measures.
80% of North-South trade is carried out by micro, small and medium sized businesses.

So for smaller traders – who as members of the community are most affected but whose economic role is not systemically significant for the EU market – we would allow them to continue to operate as they do currently, with no new restrictions.

And for larger traders we would introduce streamlined processes, including a trusted trader scheme that would be consistent with our commitments.
Both of these options for our future customs arrangement would leave the UK free to determine its own tariffs with third countries – which would simply not be possible in a customs union.

I recognise that some of these ideas depend on technology, robust systems to ensure trust and confidence, as well as goodwill – but they are serious and merit consideration by all sides.
So to conclude on goods, a fundamental principle in our negotiating strategy is that trade at the UK-EU border should be as frictionless as possible with no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

We believe this can be achieved via a commitment to ensure that the relevant UK regulatory standards remain at least as high as the EU’s and a customs arrangement.

We recognise this would constrain our ability to lower regulatory standards for industrial goods. But in practice we are unlikely to want to reduce our standards: not least because the British public would rightly punish any government that did so at the ballot box.


This approach to trade in goods is important for agriculture, food and drinks – but here other considerations also apply.

We are leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and will want to take the opportunity that brings to reform our agriculture and fisheries management.

The UK has among the highest environmental and animal welfare standards of any nation on earth. As we leave the EU we will uphold environmental standards and go further to protect our shared natural heritage. And I fully expect that our standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s.

But it will be particularly important to secure flexibility here to ensure we can make the most of the opportunities presented by our withdrawal from the EU for our farmers and exporters.

We are also leaving the Common Fisheries Policy.

The UK will regain control over our domestic fisheries management rules and access to our waters.

But as part of our economic partnership we will want to continue to work together to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters and a fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.

And we will also want to ensure open markets for each other’s products.


Just as our partnership in goods needs to be deeper than any other Free Trade Agreement, so in services we have the opportunity to break new ground with a broader agreement than ever before.

We recognise that certain aspects of trade in services are intrinsically linked to the single market and therefore our market access in these areas will need to be different.
But we should only allow new barriers to be introduced where absolutely necessary.

We don’t want to discriminate against EU service providers in the UK. And we wouldn’t want the EU to discriminate against UK service providers.

So we want to limit the number of barriers that could prevent UK firms from setting up in the EU and vice versa, and agree an appropriate labour mobility framework that enables UK businesses and self-employed professionals to travel to the EU to provide services to clients in person and that allows UK businesses to provide services to the EU over the phone or the internet. And we want to do the same for EU firms providing services to the UK.

And given that UK qualifications are already recognised across the EU and vice versa – it would make sense to continue to recognise each other’s qualifications in the future.
There are two areas which have never been covered in a Free Trade Agreement in any meaningful way before – broadcasting and, despite the EU’s own best efforts in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, financial services.

But we have some ideas for how we can do this – and it is in all our interests to explore these.

On broadcasting, we recognise that we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the EU as we do now. Currently, because of the “country of origin” principle, a company based in the UK can be licenced by Ofcom and broadcast into any EU member state and vice versa.

The relevant directive will not apply to the UK, as we leave the EU, and relying solely on precedents will hurt consumers and businesses on both sides.

The UK’s creative hub leads to the development of products that European consumers want – the UK currently provides around 30% of the channels available in the EU. But equally, many UK companies have pan-European ownership, and there are 35 channels and on-demand services, which are offered in the UK but licensed in the EU.

So we should explore creative options with an open mind, including mutual recognition which would allow for continued transfrontier broadcasting – recognising the enriching role that British broadcasters and programme makers play, not only in British – but more broadly in our common European – culture.

Similarly, on financial services, the Chancellor will be setting out next week how financial services can and should be part of a deep and comprehensive partnership. We are not looking for passporting because we understand this is intrinsic to the single market of which we would no longer be a member. It would also require us to be subject to a single rule book, over which we would have no say.

The UK has responsibility for the financial stability of the world’s most significant financial centre, and our taxpayers bear the risk, so it would be unrealistic for us to implement new EU legislation automatically and in its entirety.

But with UK located banks underwriting around half of the debt and equity issued by EU companies and providing more than £1.1 trillion of cross-border lending to the rest of the EU in 2015 alone, this is a clear example of where only looking at precedent would hurt both the UK and EU economies.

As in other areas of the future economic partnership, our goal should be to establish the ability to access each others’ markets, based on the UK and EU maintaining the same regulatory outcomes over time, with a mechanism for determining proportionate consequences where they are not maintained. But given the highly regulated nature of financial services, and our shared desire to manage financial stability risks, we would need a collaborative, objective framework that is reciprocal, mutually agreed, and permanent and therefore reliable for businesses.

There are many other areas where the UK and EU economies are closely linked – including energy, transport, digital, law, science and innovation, and education and culture.
On energy, we will want to secure broad energy co-operation with the EU. This includes protecting the single electricity market across Ireland and Northern Ireland – and exploring options for the

UK’s continued participation in the EU’s internal energy market. We also believe it is of benefit to both sides for the UK to have a close association with Euratom.
On transport, we will want to ensure the continuity of air, maritime and rail services; and we will want to protect the rights of road hauliers to access the EU market and vice versa.

On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU. This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.

We will want our agreement to cover civil judicial cooperation, where the EU has already shown that it can reach agreement with non-member states, such as through the Lugano Convention, although we would want a broader agreement that reflects our unique starting point. And our agreement will also need to cover company law and intellectual property, to provide further legal certainty and coherence.

The UK is also committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers. This would enable the UK to participate in key programmes alongside our EU partners.

And we want to take a similar approach to educational and cultural programmes, to promote our shared values and enhance our intellectual strength in the world – again making an ongoing contribution to cover our fair share of the costs involved.

In all these areas, bold and creative thinking can deliver new agreements that are in the very best interests of all our people – both in the UK and across the EU.
And in the face of a worrying rise in protectionism, I believe such agreements can enable us to set an example to the world.


For the world is watching.

We should not think of our leaving the EU as marking an ending, as much as a new beginning for the United Kingdom and our relationship with our European allies.
Change is not to be feared, so long as we face it with a clear-sighted determination to act for the common good.

Nor is Brexit an end in itself.

Rather, it must be the means by which we reaffirm Britain’s place in the world and renew the ties that bind us here at home. And I know that the United Kingdom I treasure can emerge from this process a stronger, more cohesive nation.

A United Kingdom which is a cradle for innovation; a leader in the industries of the future; a champion of free trade, based on high standards; a modern, outward-looking, tolerant country, proud of our values and confident of our place in the world.

This is an optimistic and confident future which can unite us all.

A Global Britain which thrives in the world by forging a bold and comprehensive economic partnership with our neighbours in the EU; and reaches out beyond our continent, to trade with nations cross the globe.

The approach I have set out today would: implement the referendum result, provide an enduring solution, protect our security and prosperity, helps us build the kind of country we want to be, and bring our country together by commanding the confidence of those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain. It is an approach to deliver for the whole of our United Kingdom and our wider family of overseas territories.

I am in no doubt that whatever agreement we reach with the EU, our future is bright. The stability and continuity of centuries of self-government, our commitment to freedom under the rule of law, our belief in enterprise and innovation, but above all, the talent and genius of our people – and especially our young people – are the seeds of our success in the future, as they have been the guarantors of our success in the past.

I look forward to discussing our future partnership with our European friends. Because although we are leaving the EU – and in that regard we will become separate – we are all still European and will stay linked by the many ties and values we have in common. And because it is only by working together that we will find solutions that work for all our peoples.

Yes, there will be ups and downs over the months ahead. As in any negotiation, no-one will get everything they want. We will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out.

Just as we will not accept the counsels of despair that this simply cannot be done. We will move forward by calm, patient discussion of each other’s positions. It is my responsibility as Prime Minister to provide that leadership for our country at this crucial time. By following the course I have set out today, I am confident we will get there and deliver the right outcome for Britain and the EU.

A generation from now what will be remembered is not the rough and tumble of negotiation but whether we reached an enduring solution cast in the interests of the people we are all here to serve.

So my message to our friends in Europe is clear.

We know what we want.

We understand your principles.

We have a shared interest in getting this right.

Let’s get on with it.

March 1, 2018  8:59 PM

The Prime Minister’s Skills Funding Review goes well beyond “mere” funding

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
apprenticeships, Skills, Training

Ten days ago the Prime Minister took time out from Brexit to deliver a blockbuster of a speech on the need to reform the funding of Higher Education . The reactions from the Universities and Colleges were predictable and link back to the comments made when she first said there would be a review.  The BBC report of her speech and the reactions to it similarly concentrates on what will happen to University fees. Since then we have had mounting attacks on the life styles of those claiming to run their Universities as globally competitive businesses, while distancing themselves from the financial pressures on their staff, let alone on students. Meanwhile the CBI and others claim that “Freedom of Movement” (whether from India and the Philippines or the EU) is essential to enable business to import the staff with the work ethic that our schools have failed to instil let alone the talent that our “world class” Universities has failed to imbue with the skills they claim to want.

What we have not had is any comment on the fundamental nature of the review the Prime Minister actually announced. 

The political challenge which led to the review can be summarised quite simply: the voting patterns behind the 2016 referendum and the 2017 General Election mean it is no longer politically acceptable for the UK to rely on imported talent for the skills needed by employers today, let alone in the future, while saddling those entering the world of work with debts of up to £57,000. Tinkering with current funding levels or structures is not enough. Studies of current skills shortages or future skills needs to enable current planning/funding structures to work less badly are not enough. A thorough review is needed.

Technology is not only changing the skills in demand at an increasing pace. It is also changing how education and training are being delivered around the rest of the world – cutting the elapsed time from identifying raw talent to revenue earning (albeit within an ongoing education and training programme) from years to months, weeks or even days.

Hence a prime reason UK FE/HE delivery costs and fee structures are out of line.

I am therefore delighted that the call for a rethink goes well  beyond new sources of funding for current structures.

It embraces the means of encouraging and publicising the full range of alternatives to  continuing to rely on half our teenagers being willing to commit to working towards full time, debt funded undergraduate degrees.

These include:

  • employer-driven graduate and post-graduate apprenticeships
  • graduate conversion for those who discover they have made the wrong choice
  • workforce updating
  • returner programmes
  • harnessing  the talents of currently unemployable NEETs.

The aim of the review appears to be to allow “markets”, alias students and employers with well-informed and genuine choices, to drive the direction of travel and enable providers (including Universities and Colleges) to respond accordingly.

Those concerned with Digital or Cybersecurity Skills, who believe that all they need to do is focus on lobbying DDCMS and its Digital Skills Partnership Board or the NCSC and its Education and training initiatives  should read the full terms of reference and note that the review reports jointly to the Department for Education and the Treasury

The review will focus on the following issues

1. Choice and competition across a joined-up post-18 education and training sector:

• How we can help young people make effective choices between academic, technical and vocational routes after 18, including information on earnings outcomes and the quality of the teaching they receive.
• How we can support a more dynamic market in provision, taking into account reforms already underway, whilst maintaining the financial sustainability of a world-class higher education and research sector.
• How we can encourage learning that is more flexible (for example, part-time, distance learning and commuter study options) and complements ongoing Government work to support people to study at different times in their lives.
• How to ensure the market provides choice with higher-level degree apprenticeships and shorter and more flexible courses, in particular accelerated degree programmes, and supporting innovative new institutions that can drive competition.
• How we can ensure that there is world-class provision of technical education across the country including through the new Institutes of Technology.

2. A system that is accessible to all:

• How we can ensure that people from disadvantaged backgrounds have equal opportunities to progress to and succeed in all forms of post-18 education and training.
• How disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from Government and from universities and colleges.

3. Delivering the skills our country needs:

• How we can best support education outcomes that deliver our Industrial Strategy ambitions, by contributing to a strong economy and delivering the skills our country needs.

4. Value for money for graduates and taxpayers:

• How students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution, while maintaining the link that those who benefit from post18 education contribute to its costs.
• Ensuring that funding arrangements across post-18 education and training are transparent and do not act as barriers to choice or provision, considering how best to promote institutional efficiency and value for money for students and taxpayers.
• How the Government and institutions communicate with students and graduates around student finance, ensuring this communication is as clear as possible (consistent with the relevant legal requirements) about the nature and terms of student support.

How did such profound review come about and why have so many missed the implications?

During  the closed sessions at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference the relaunch of the Conservative Policy Forum was announced. There were “robust” discussions on its role and priorities, with a clear desire among many for a return to the role of its predecessor “The Conservative Political Centre” which Mrs Thatcher (at least in her early years) used as one of her key sounding boards. I will not comment on what else was  said, or not said, in a closed meeting but the first CPF briefing after the conference was on Youth Issues: “Time for a new deal for a new generation“.

That brief included reference to the Sutton Trust material on the value of a degree compared to an apprenticeship which I subsequently quoted in my November blog on “Who speaks for digital employers on their skills needs” . When I wrote that blog I had in front of me the material being used to prepare one of the responses to the CPF briefing. By the time CPF published its summary of responses  I had already been involved in helping organise a workshop to look at the practicality of using the Grids for Learning (who provide secure Internet connectivity via JISC/Janet for most UK schools) to carry the information necessary to enable pupils and their parents to make well-informed choices – the first of the issues to be addressed in the review. I hasten to add that I had no inside knowledge other than from discussions at the Party Conference which “told me” this was an idea whose time had come. More-over the Prime Minister once chaired a Local Education Authority and was therefore likely to be listening.

On February 14th, a few days before the announcement of the review, WCIT (the IT livery company) hosted the second quarterly review of the Plymouth Cybersecurity Skills Partnership (on which I last blogged before the first quarterly review). On 1st March the report of the second review was e-mailed to all DPA members , partners and observers registered for the Skills Working Group. Those present at the review meeting agreed to organise a tightly focussed “proof of concept” for not only using the Grids to carry content but to promote access among the target audiences. The aim was to demonstrate practicality before the new DfE geographic careers hubs are operational and success (in attracting talent to the employers sponsoring the “proof of concept”) soon afterwards. The expectation would then be that other groups of employers (national and/or local) would use the processes (including for security, probity and quality control) and the bandwagon would roll.

Those interested in participating should contact the DPA for detail but are warned to be ready to open their wallets. This is not a cuddly study or talking shop. Like the work on the BSI Age Verification PAS (and implementation technologies) carried out over the past couple of years by members of the Digital Policy Alliance Age Verification and Internet Safety Group, it is a partnership of equals to demonstrate the practicality of Government policies on which their is all-party, pan-sector support.  The role of DPA has been to bring players together to suggest what government could and should do – and what industry could and should do in support.  A selection of players have now agreed to put their money where their mouths were.

As soon as I have their agreement I plan to blog on their plans.

And I would like to conclude with a lesson for the lobbyists who have yet to even understand the profundity of what was announced by the Prime Minister. 

My very first blog for Computer Weekly, back in 2007, was titled The silent majority gets what it deserves, ignored.  I later refined the message. Professionals who wish to do their public duty and a help improve policy in the areas they think they understand should be active along all the channels to which they have access. Including those of the party of  their choice.

I have been promiscuous from the beginning of my “political” (alias public policy) career. In 1978 – 9, as a levy paying member of my Trades Union I was on the TUC study into the impact of New Technology reporting to the Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, as the same time as serving on the study team reporting to Sir Keith Joseph. I was also on the BCS Professional Board and School Committee. I lifted the idea of a Government funded computer in every school by a given date and sold it not only to both Conservative and Labour Parties but also to the Civil Servant writing the DTI brief for who-ever won the next election.

Hence the programme for a microcomputer in every school by 1982 -(IT year).

I had the advantage that I was a known quantity, some years earlier I had managed the DTI-DoE-ICL Water Industry Computing Development Plan which reported to the Civil Servant concerned and was no longer working for a supplier. I was a Corporate Planner for the Wellcome Foundation helping ride shotgun, inter alia, on our global Computing and Telecommunications strategies (which gave me information on what was happening around the world). I was therefore trustworthy – unlike those working for UK suppliers or the UK sales arms on international suppliers. More-over my director allowed me ten days a year “public service” after I ceased to be a member of the Royal Naval Reserve (for which I had also been allowed ten days a year).

Today I have a similar objective to the micros in schools programme. I would like to ensure that who-ever wins the next election, (and it may be sooner than anything of us think), will use the Grids for Learning and ISC/Janet (because they already exist as not-for-profit procurement and support co-operatives) to help transform not only UK careers advice but the education system as a whole, in co-operation with international (not just UK or EU) employers, training providers (commercial as well as public sector) and technology suppliers.

February 28, 2018  7:04 PM

Who should the BBC “reflect, represent and serve”?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

Ofcom has just asked for inputs on the terms of reference for a “Thematic review of representation and portrayal on the BBC“. It looks innocuous and slightly odd in an Internet Age but the BBC has recently failed in one of its key roles – to keep the British Establishment (of which it is a key part) in touch with majority public opinion – not just on Brexit but on a range of other issues.

When the previous Chairman of Ofcom was Secretary and then Director of Policy at “Aunty” (from 1983 – 2000) most us knew who the BBC represented. It was “them” – the “Progressive Liberal Establishment” who ran the Government, whichever party was in power, and had told us what to think since the dark days of 1940 and newspaper rationing and censorship. The 1946 election saw those values reflected in the new House of Commons. Popular revolt against austerity, rationing and the abuses that accompanied the latter led to an adjustment in the 1950s but the centralisation of control (completion of the steam age nation state) that accompanied mass wartime mobilisation has never been reversed. And the BBC has been the propaganda arm of the co-operation between Westminster and Whitehall that, over time, emasculated what was left of local government – today we forget that most of the NHS, Social Services and Schools, as well as Electricity, Gas and Water were run by local government, not the private sector, before they were nationalised.

More recently came the wipe-out of local newspapers, as classified advertising transferred from to the Internet and was then consolidated into Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google and Twitter. in parallel came the implosion of local high street and village shops, burdened with business rates and UK VAT, unlike their on-line competitors.  But with the “press release fed” London Media as the main source of news  and comment the slow build up of resentment, including with all those digital enthusiasts herding us on-line to be fleeced, passed un-noticed – save for the occasional blip such as the fuel protests and London Riots .  In consequence the “British Establishment” was caught by surprise when a majority of the English (the working and lower middle classes) voted to leave the European Union, despite having been told in no uncertain terms which way to vote.

The BBC failed it’s prime purpose – not just to tell British people what to think but also to convey their views back to Government before they are massaged and bowdlerised for public consumption (a role which has been airbrushed out of the histories of both the BBC and of mass observation).

That role is restated, much more politely, in the call for inputs on the terms of reference.

One of the Public Purposes of the BBC is for the BBC to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the UK, and in doing so, support the creative economy across the UK. All audiences should feel that the BBC offers something for them, but our research shows that several groups feel that it doesn’t adequately represent their interests or lives. We are conducting this thematic review of representation and portrayal to understand in greater detail what audiences expect from the BBC, and whether the BBC reflects and portrays the lives of all people across the whole of the UK. Looking at representation and portrayal in detail now will provide a baseline to inform whether further measures are needed to ensure that the BBC is delivering for all audiences.

This document sets out the terms of reference for the review. We are seeking views by 29 March 2018. Our final report will be published in autumn 2018.

The wording in the document implies that the BBC needs to better reflect the views of minorities. That may well be correct, but the BBC also needs to better reflect the views and priorities of majorities. Thus the population of London is greater than Wales and Scotland added together. Now compare the cover of London news on the BBC website with that of either. Now look for cover on the battles building up in advance of the Local Government elections, for example the scandals, splits and demonstrations in Lambeth over Library and Housing Policy as “Momentum” and “Progress” battle for the Labour vote in the run-up to 2018 in the face of a challenge from the Greens . A London Borough with a population significantly larger than the Highlands and Islands or Mid-Wales does not qualify for a section on the BBC website – not even a link to the Brixton Buzz . That might not matter had the UK still got a vibrant local media, on-line or off-line – but the internet giants, including the BBC, are throttling that which we have.

Hence the importance f the terms of reference for this innocuous looking exercise.

February 26, 2018  8:20 PM

Is Brexit an existential threat to the new (including digital) Establishment?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Brexit, Public sector

The Brexit vote was an attack by the English Working and Lower Middle Classes on the British “Establishment” (from Oxford and Russell Group PPE graduates, Guardian Readers and the BBC, through the Digiterati, Big Business and City to Whitehall and the Treasury). It was not “just” a vote to leave the EU.

The evolving British Establishment has survived since 1688 by riding and manipulating the waves of change, not by fighting “the will of the people” and risking overthrow.

So how was it caught by surprise? And how long before its members re-align to reflect the new balance of power?

The main reason was that a combination of the BBC and the Internet had wiped out the local media which not only reflected and amplified local prejudices but provided the wetware feedstock for the national media. Most of the generation of senior journalists who are now retiring learned their trade on local and regional newspapers funded by the classified advertising that has migrated to Amazon and eBay. The result has led to the London (not just Westminster) bubble losing touch with most of the rest of the population of England. The relationship is now more akin to that of Singapore and Malaysia than to a capital City and its regions.  The BBC move to Salford is too recent to have had a balancing effect – but the influence of the BBC is waning and the mindsets of Manchester do not reflect those of Birmingham, Leeds or Newcastle, let alone of Cardiff, Norwich or Plymouth and their respective hinterlands.

The result has led to a split between those politicians who believe voters are intelligent enough to discern between the lies and half-truths fed to them at every election, (not just during the referendum campaign) and the pundits believe they should be telling the voters what to think. Meanwhile  The CBI and the Civil Service are fighting to preserve a world fit for “those who know best” – lobbyists, consultants,  economists, academics, intellectuals and bureaucrats.

The “Digital Establishment” is right to feel threatened by the threat of revolt from those who  grow and make “things” and create (not just shuffle, tax and spend) wealth. The natural reaction of the digiterati is that of a outsource consultancy told to produce what the end-users want, not what their sales team negotiated with the customers’ procurement team and had written into the contract.  Such a concession would threaten orderly the IT world order of “strategic partnerships” and PFIs. It might even threaten the business models of the Internet Cartel, which “knows” what is good for us before we do – thanks to their all-seeing big data algorithms.

In consequence discussion on the impact of Brexit on UK  IT suppliers and users appears stuck in a rhetorical treacle of dishonesty and obfuscation.

Those who lost the referendum are desperate to sabotage Brexit but are less than open about what is that they most desperate to keep.

Those who won are still shy about the policies and regulations their supporters were most anxious to scrap lest they give ammunition to the Remoaners.

We therefore have a proxy fight between those who wish to negotiate in secret, producing a deal for the hoi polloi  to humbly accept, and those who want the open agreement of a deal that reflects the wishes/aspirations/hopes/fears of the majority. The latter approach, however, threatens to open up a raft of messy compromises quietly agreed in Brussels, well away from democratic scrutiny, before we have left the EU and can embark on regulatory reform at leisure.

So what do the headline phrases mean and what is really at stake for the IT industry :

1 The Customs Union, A Customs Union or Tariff Alignment

The prime difference between “the customs union” and “tariff alignment” appears to be “right” to route on-line profits and taxes through Luxembourg (3 – 17% VAT) or Dublin (12.5%  Corporation Tax for trading income). “A customs union” appears to be an Alice Through the Looking Glass expression for the compromise that will emerge. The continuation within the EU of forms of territorial licensing and price discrimination which were made illegal for the motor trade decades ago means that the digital single market remains a myth. Paradoxically Brexit could lead to more open access across the rest of Europe as well. Simple electoral mathematics mean the UK will not erect a hard border in Northern Ireland on “our” side of 1920 demarcation lines which have never been formally reviewed, let alone agreed by the local populations who were supposed to have been consulted. That would leave the European Commission (the members states will stand well back) to take on Sinn Fein and the IRA if they were to try to force the Irish Government to erect a hard border their side. Meanwhile almost all cross-border trade now flows along the globally administered supply chains  in sealed containers with digital manifestos organised by transaction handling and freight fowarding operators. Sooner or later the rhetoric in the negotiations will have to touch base with reality.  Hence the importance of the expertise of the City of London (home to most of the world’s global trading expertise outside Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and Singapore) in organising trade across whatever obstacles politicians create.

2 Freedom of movement

Given the pledges already made regarding the rights of EU Citizens in the UK in return for reciprocity, it is difficult to see what is really at stake beyond the right to claim benefit for dependents not yet born and the requirement to advertise public sector job opportunities across the EU at the same as locally. That is not, however, what the Brexit vote was about. It is no longer politically acceptable for the UK to rely on imported talent for the skills needed by employers today, let alone in the future, while saddling those entering the world of work with debts of up to £57,000. {this will be the subject of my next blog] Meanwhile the digital skills of the future are in short supply across the rest of the world, not just Europe. Even if we wanted to, we could not import the quantity and quality we need. Calls for “freedom of movement” from the CBI and other High Tech companies look suspiciously like wanting to divert attention from efforts to preserve the “right” to undercut indigenous IT consultants by importing those with offshore tax and expenses advantages. The majority of tier 2 visas are, however, granted to Indians, most to a single company. More-over the problem was created by HMRC (IR35 et al) not Brussels.

3 Regulatory Alignment

The opposition to change comes from those who do not want past compromises re-opened. Many, perhaps most, such compromises were negotiated between trade associations representing big business and socialist groups representing trades unions, with limited inputs from well-organised consumer and environmental groups.

The momentum from change comes from those left out.  These include:

  • innovative SMEs not in the supply chains of dominant players,
  • high street shopkeepers being driven out of business by on-line retailers who pay neither business rates nor UK VAT,
  • fishermen who want marine reserves
  • those who want agricultural support focussed on small farmers who help preserve the countryside, not agribusinesses which farm the subsidies.
  • those trying to provide joined up care for an aging population
  • those who want to be able to identify and discriminate against animal products form livestock raised and housed in conditions that would be illegal in the UK.

But few of the groups have got their act together because, until the unexpected Brexit vote they did not think they stood a chance. The Establishment wants to make sure they do not get that chance until it has worked out how to survive in power by “managing” the pace of change.

4 Devolution of Power – the passing of IT budgets and spend from Whitehall to Town Hall, County Hall and their procurement consortia 

The UK is a uniquely centralised, steam age nation state (even more so than France or Germany), hence many of our problems with the rest of the EU which its regionalisation agenda. The threat of powers being passed from Brussels to the Welsh or Scots assembly, let alone to Town Hall or County Hall runs counter to all the traditions of Whitehall. This IS a genuinely existential threat to the London-based establishment, The City of London can survive a transition to a United Kingdom. The City of Westminster would find it much harder, especially if Parliament moves away for a few years while its buildings are refurbished. That said, the Civil Service is currently busy recruiting youngsters, including former junior lobbyists whose Brussels careers have come to a halt, to handle an expected post-Brexit boom in regulatory and administrative activity – as well as negotiations with  the EU. Who say they do not plan ahead?


January 18, 2018  7:29 PM

Who opposes on-line age checking and why?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

Articles have recently appeared in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC website  making the claim that age checking, as required under the Digital Economy Act, will drive adolescents towards the dark web. They quote an impact assessment dated March 2017 and based on a draft produced in the previous year – before the products and services being developed in support of BSI PAS 1296  were available for demonstration.

The argument being made is akin to claiming that putting speed cameras on main roads will cause motorists to use side roads as race tracks.

Before dismissing such claims as absurd we need to recognise that there are a number of groups who do not want effective anonymised age checking, as per the PAS, for a variety of reasons.

• There is claim that the techniques on offer threaten anonymity and privacy. In fact they remove the need for on-line retailers/publishers/service providers to collect/maintain personal data that may leak or be requisitioned by regulatory authorities. This reduces both the attack profile for organised crime and risk of fines under the GDPR while increasing the privacy of the vulnerable.

• The techniques thus undermine the case for big data collection in support of programmatic advertising at a time when reputable businesses are already pulling their on-line advertising budgets because of the filth with which their brands can be routinely associated. This does indeed present a challenge to the business models of the burgeoning “big data” industry.

• There is a powerful and well funded (in Internet lobbying terms) group who want their click bait viewed by those of any age to earn fees and/or to preserve their ability to prey on those under the age of informed consent. The layers of one-way encryption which prevent access to information, other than that a given photo or hashtag refers to some-one above or below a given age who has been verified by a known and trusted person (e.g. a teacher or bank official), are a significant obstacle both to disseminating inappropriate clickbait to minors and to acquiring the identities needed by those seeking to access age protected services in order to contact and groom the users.

The information to credibly impersonate most of us can be acquired quite cheaply over the dark net, collected and collated from hacking big databases or bought from those employed in overseas call centres. In consequence technologies previously used to check the identities and authorisations of those with legitimate permission to make high value financial services transactions now have to be used on a large scale in support of routine bank transactions. They are now available to verify access to age-controlled services at remarkably low cost.

There are, in consequence, now a variety of age-checking technologies that appear “fit for purpose” – if the purpose is:

• to reduce the risk of those using reputable, age-controlled services being approached and groomed by perverts with false identities.

• to enable those providing “adult” entertainment, on-line gambling or selling alcohol or cigarettes or knives, to reduce the risk of inadvertently serving under-age customers – including those using their parent’s credit cards or who have acquired their own bank accounts, pre-paid debit cards – or those belonging to some-one else.

• to make it easier for payment providers and advertiser to avoid penalties for supporting illegal activity – for example “all pornography providers who do not require age verification will be acting illegally. Payment providers and advertisers are already contractually obliged to disengage their services from any company found to be acting illegally”. Once notified of the illegal behaviour, payment service providers and advertisers are “required to disengage from non-compliant pornography sites.”

Of course nothing is 100%.

If intelligent and intellectually curious youngsters are into on-line misbehaviour they can access material over the dark web, just as they can supplement their pocket money by acting as money mules or as foot soldiers for organised on-line criminal networks. Hence the need (on which I blogged last year) to identify the brightest and best, to recognise and reward their abilities as “cyber prefects” and to harness them as potential security industry high fliers or state sponsored cyberwarriors, before they turn to the dark side – or are recruited by overseas powers.

Interestingly age verification is one of the few high-tech services where Britain leads the world. US and Pacific Rim Countries are looking to adopt the secure, anonymised, “low data” solutions developed for the new legislation, available for demonstration to MPs and Officials and ready for use as soon as the legislation is passed.

The reason is for the UK lead is that our domestic commercial “adult entertainment” providers are strong supporters of robust anonymised age checking. They have no wish to attract those who cannot pay. They have every reason to not want to be undercut by those peddling free porn as click bait. The UK licensed on-line gambling providers are similarly strong supporters. So too are those selling age-controlled products (alcohol, knives, tobacco etc.) and those delivering them. The group also has global support from those wishing to provide safe, child and family on-line environments.

Much of the opposition comes from the click bait industry – which until the revolt of the advertisers , often did not measure or care where the clicks came from. That is now changing, although we can wonder whether some of the planned automated responses are yet appropriate to the problem . But part undoubtedly comes from those who brought the National Council for Civil Liberties into disrepute in 1976. That community appears to wish to preserve a “right” of unchecked on-line access to children to corrupt, groom and abuse and to be fighting a determined rearguard action accordingly, using a variety of obfuscations, as in the 1970s, to disguise their true motives and mislead reputable organisations.

January 15, 2018  3:04 AM

Who is serious about data protection?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
.ico, Data protection, GDPR, IETF, Uncategorized

The latest data breach in Leicester City Council , putting some of the most vulnerable in society at immediate risk from potential local predators, illustrates why it is so important to implement the recommendations of the DCMS Select Committee report – Cyber Security – Protection of Data Security On line . Had the individual found guilty of stealing personal data from the Council earlier this year been sent to jail instead of being fined £150, it is unlikely that some-one would have sent details of vulnerable children and adults to most of the taxi firms in the City – whether accidentally or deliberately. The jail sentences for unlawfully obtaining or selling personal data in the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act would not prevent such egregious carelessness.  But the weakness of fining the organisation, not the individual, for carelessness also illustrates the need to fine those who do not train their staff and audit and test their processes – as called for by the Select Committee.

See my blog immediately after the report was published for a summary of the recommendations then read the full report. It is under 30 pages.

Unless the UK implementation of the GDPR addresses those recommendations it will not improve the situation. Data Breach notification merely alerts the sharks to a pool of potential victims. Meanwhile many of the obligations will serve mainly to increase the reluctance of Directors to take responsibility for what they do not understand and cannot control. Meanwhile the data protection and cyber security industries are  obsessed with compliance technobabble and expensive products and services that do little, if anything, to reduce the likely of serious breaches or improve the privacy of potential victims.

At the same time we are ignoring the elephant in the room. Those promoting big data business models, whether in the public or private sector, need to take responsibility for the consequences. Those intent on hoovering up large amounts of personal data (including from children’s mobile phones and smart toys) need to be held personally, not just corporately, liable for its misuse. This is particularly so in the public sector where breaches merely lead to a merry-go-round of OPM (other peoples money).

The provision of supposedly anonymised databases for “research” purposes also needs serious scrutiny before we get too enthusiastic about Big Data research institutes. About the only people who appear “serious” about the privacy and security of our medical records, for example, are the insurance pharmaceutical companies who come in for so much flack. Academic researchers tend to “know” that their work is so much more important – as well as lacking the necessary security knowledge, let alone budgets. Meanwhile NHS data protection depends on nearly half a million individuals having a more robust attitude to security than 40,000 German Enigma operators in World War 2. Currently most think that hare accurate information available, when and where it is needed for patient care should be more important. Are they wrong?

I also recommend pondering the Select Committee’s polite but devastating comments on the failure of the relevant IT professional bodies and trade associations to condemn innately insecure products, services and development practices. The Internet Engineering Task Force meets in London in March. I would love to see demonstrations of users outside the venue calling on those, in practice, who run the Internet to live up to their responsibilities to the rest of society, not that their “toy” is part of the world’s critical infrastructure.

December 31, 2017  12:09 PM

Minister tells Google and Facebook to obey law or be taxed.

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Brexit, Uncategorized

The UK Security Minister sent an apparently very odd message to Google and Facebook in a Sunday Times interview on New Year’s Eve, “obey the law or be taxed.

HMRC has a long and dishonourable record of doing dodgy deals with multinationals and their customers . But publicly offering dominant on-line players a choice appears odder than most. At least at first sight.

The real message behind the rhetoric is therefore likely to be very different. Perhaps he was saying  “co-operate with the CONTEST programme or see your corporate tax-planning e-mails published in a Sunday Times special.”

The NSA has no legal power to spy on US Corporations, let alone pass the results to the US Inland Revenue Service but,

we can reasonably envisage some form of global co-operation, not just Anglo-American, let alone “merely” pan-EU.

The Chancellor did not mention co-operation with the EU on tax enforcement. One of the first benefits from “Cuddly Brexit” (Mutual Seduction as opposed to Bear Hug) appears to be the agreement to move negotiation from “Customs Union” and “Tax Harmonisation” (with on-line revenues  routed via the Irish Republic, Luxembourg or the Netherlands to black holes in the Caribbean) to “Tax Alignment” – with no incentive for physical cross border smuggling and UK on-line revenues collected here in the UK. It was only when I looked into the different between harmonisation and alignment that I realised why so many digital lobbyists were desperate to preserve customs “union” as opposed to the long standing open border between Ulster and the rest of Ireland, but not to say why.  Such negotiations will, of course, be complicated by the role of Juncker, (Prime Minister and/or Finance Minister of Luxembourg for most of his political career) but will have the strong support of  most tax-paying member states.

Security and Tax avoidance are two of the areas where we should be offering greater co-operation as part of the Brexit negotiations, with our end of the partnerships firmly under UK law to facilitate effective international, not just pan-EU, enforcement.

We should also commit to enforce the e-Commerce Directive limitations on “innocent carrier status” as part of the Brexit.

The algorithms which enable Facebook and Google to target the adverts you see, according to data they have collected on you, means they are not innocent carriers because they select the receivers of the transmissions.  As part of the “war of the algorithms” they are seeking to better control the material that appears via the programmatic advertising services run by their partners and subsidiaries. That is because have little choice other than to accept responsibility for doing so in , or see their revenues return to those publishers who use humans to edit content. It also, however, means that their responsibilities go much wider.  This has massive implications for their business models and share price. How they handle these will determine their future as potentially long-lived and loved “global utilities” or temporary phenomena, like the US rail-road cartels of the late 19th Century.

I plan to blog some more on the likely effect on the Digital World of “Cuddly Brexit”, the friendly divorce that leads to a life of trading polygamy.

December 30, 2017  4:43 PM

Can democracy and the advertising funded Internet survive the war of the algorithms?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
algorithm, democracy, fake news, Internet

AI as an excuse for obfuscating responsibility for commercial decisions

Much of the current hype over Big Data and Artificial intelligence results from the large scale use of use of old techniques to hoover up personal and other data by those who wish to avoid scrutiny of the way they collate and analyse it to influence/exploit their audiences. Sometimes this is to conceal sonking  (the scientification of non-knowledge, charging extra for stating the obvious or giving false credibility to guesstimates). Sometimes they have covert as well as overt objectives. Meanwhile most of the examples of public benefit (from traffic analysis to epidemiology ) in the recent NIC report on Data for the Public Good do not require new research or technology. Many are already operational, albeit in small scale across UK local authorities, from Plymouth through Bournemouth and Milton Keynes to Newcastle, not just the test beds of Bristol and Manchester or other parts of the world. The “research” most needed is into processes for the effective the governance of data quality and of secure sharing in a world of increasingly complicated intellectual property rights and of the “correct” use of analytical tools for interpretation and exploitation in the interests of all who contribute or are affected.

The buck stops where?

The subtitle of “Move Fast and Break things”  is “How Facebook, Google and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy”. The comments attached to the Guardian review  indicate a progressive establishment caught in the headlights of the Internet cartel’s dominance over the inter-linked worlds of advertising, information, innovation, lobbying and funding. Meanwhile the US election of Trump and the UK Brexit vote indicate that small town, working class America and high street, lower middle-class England have lost faith in the “establishment” (Washington, Whitehall or Brussels). So too have the students, saddled with debt in the UK or unemployed across most of the EU, as the on-line world threatens to render their expensively (time as well as money) acquired knowledge redundant.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter have begun to appreciate that the rest of the world no longer believes they represent a brave new world, outside the traditional norms of society. The mass of voters are discovering that the Internet is not only a critical utility for their “off line” world. It is just as violent  , corrupt  and abusive . The tech giants are, in consequence, under mounting pressure to help make the Internet safe for the vulnerable, from children to grandparents. It is no longer sufficient to “protect” a playground for misogynist West Coast and other Metrosexual libertines (or did I mean libertarians?). Some players, like Uber, appeared, until recently, immune from  the pressures coming via the advertisers, fund managers and venture capitalists who finance most current Internet businesses and the spin-offs and start-ups they support. But the backlash following appearance of Jihadist videos alongside ads for luxury SUVs  finally spurred Google, Facebook and Twitter into action to help protect their programmatic advertising revenues.

The dominant players are now under pressure to help clean up the Internet

Part of their response has been the promotion of automated tools  to detect those promoting fake news and generating automated click bait  to harvest pay-per-view advertising revenues. The progress to date, however, has not impressed the Chairman of the UK Culture Media and Sport Select Committee,  himself a former advertising executive  . He has called for the kind of detail that his former colleagues require, if they are to continue to support an advertising funded Internet in the face of the damage being done to major brands by, for example, the parental backlash against the exposure of their children to all forms of undesirable content, from jihadist grooming, through child abuse to unhealthy eating.

Meanwhile many of the elderly, who control most of the nation disposable wealth, are resisting attempts to get them to use on-line banking, or even to upgrade their existing systems, because they fear that any contact from a “computer expert” is fraudulent. It is said that the information is readily available to electronically impersonate of over half the over 65s in the UK. One consequence is the promotion by banks of services like Trusteer to help protect themselves from rogue customer transactions, at the risk of inconvenience to those who try to keep their browsers up to data with the latest releases . But the war of algorithms goes much wider than battles between browsers and security software.

How will the Internet Community respond?

On one side we have the algorithms mixing data from multiple sources to create, sustain and exploit armies of false identities running over botnets of hijacked devices. Those producing such algorithms include state security and cyberwarfare operations (east and west) as well as organised crime (often better funded than law enforcement).

On the other side are the “solutions” promoted by “big tech” companies to reassure their advertisers and regulators. These are usually variations on automated “censorship”. Commercial confidentiality and security arguments are used to defend lack of public accountability and governance for the techniques used or people involved – because these are often carefully tailored to avoid impacting current revenue streams or admitting the liabilities that would arise from loss of “innocent carrier” status.

The Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force develop, test and implement standards on which a critical mass of the industry can agree – but we need to appreciate why that has not been, and will not be, sufficient.

ISOC was founded in 1992  to provide a parent for the standards body, the IETF. Together they form the collective of engineers who keep the Internet running. I was persuaded to join in 1995, when IBM, CISCO, EDS, AT&T et al had agreed a $4 billion war chest to “re-engineer” the Internet for mass rollout if it passed its first “commercial” challenge, the Atlanta Olympics, without serious problems. I was told that the three biggest challenges it would then face were – security, security and security. I was also told that it would have to reach out beyond the education and scientific community for its governance to be credible as the Internet achieved its potential.

It has tried.

It has not yet succeeded. The “rest of the world has”, until very recently, been content to leave it to the “experts”.

I am among those to blame. As a sometime committee member of  ISOC UK, I did not try hard enough to make it reach out beyond its core community – the 3,500 or so individuals who keep the Internet running in the UK. I then gave up when I got no response to my efforts to tell others why and how they could and should get involved. It is now over five years since I last blogged on the need for business users to join Nominet, ICANN, IETF and ISOC to help protect their interests “against” those with very different priorities. I said then that the effort involved in active participation was such that those who were serious would need to share the load – via user groups, their own trade association or professional body and/or groups like the Digital Policy Alliance. I still stand by that view.

The next opportunity  , the UK Network Operators Forum is a get together of the network architects who are creating the inter-operable broadband architectures we take for granted. If you look at the agenda you will see why most business users think this is not for them. Several DPA supplier members will be well represented. But unless you are helping the Communications Management Association (now part of the BCS ) represent your interests, no-one will be speaking for the user community.

Your opportunity to make a difference?

March 2018 sees the biggest opportunity to input UK user views since the IETF last met in London  . Neither Government nor any of the major UK professional bodies or trade associations bothered to greet, let alone meet, them in 2014 – although with the help of Digital Policy Alliance members we were able to organise a policy briefing in the House of Commons and invitations for MPs and officials to attend a reception afterwards.

From March 17th – 21st the IETF has its 101st Meeting in London, hosted by Google and ICANN. The agenda has not yet been fixed. IETF is an engineering democracy and they are calling for proposals. The IETF has been long aware of the way in which technology dissidents (for example girls who dare to play with boys technology toys) can be hounded out of debate by idealogues, trolls and vested interests. Their policy for handling harassment dates back to 2013 and the processes were revised in March 2016,  over a year before the problems with regard to sexual harassment in Silicon Valley finally hit the US press. An IETF event therefore provides an opportunity for well-informed technical discussion about the practical means of addressing the issues of organising balanced, democratic,  debate on- and off-line, on difficult issues. But some-one has to put the issues on the agenda and engage the relevant communities.

Engineers versus regulators, politicians, marketers, lawyers and accountants

Politicians are discovering the need to regulate the algorithms, (including those labelled artificial intelligence), used to censor fake news and provide effective data protection. But the latter are neither new nor separate issues. Both are symptomatic of the failure of ISOC to provide the standards of governance and leadership to which its founders aspired. ISOC failed because it is composed, like the IETF, of human beings. Engineers can be as honest, corrupt, candid, hypocritical, clear sighted and myopic as the rest of mankind. in consequence, the billionaire high priests of the Internet have been able to use a mix of technical and legal obfuscation to hide the secrets of their magic (from magnetic control over IPR to enabling taxable revenues to vanish) from the rest of us. But they may now be as vulnerable as the Knights Templar  after they were driven out of their “special place”, the Holy Land.  The Internet is now a critical infrastructure – underpinning the whole of society. And with that comes a whole new tier of responsibility and accountability.

The Internet, like the medieval Knights Templar, has simple principles for enabling communications across cultures and continents. But it still lacks the equivalent of the trusted identity, authentication and authorisation rituals of the Templars – which they were supposed to keep secret under torture. Those rituals (updated for carriage over telegraph, telephone, fax and data transfer) still underpin correspondence banking today. Meanwhile the rest of the Internet has overlays of complexity which enable pseudonymisation, impersonation and avoidance of intermediary responsibility for error or failure: the “best efforts” approach commonly enables denial of responsibility for probity, reliability, resilience and security unless contracted for specific services.

I would trust the combination of ISOC and IETF more than lawyers, regulators or politicians, to address those failings and to produce, test and implement processes that meet the needs of most of mankind to know with whom they are dealing. I would also trust them to come up with robust processes for inter-operability between commonly used identity and trust architectures. I am less certain, however, whether we can trust the dominant Internet players, let alone Governments, to adopt such processes – unless and until forced to by market pressures. The reasons for that doubt got back many years . But engineers are not good at designing governance processes and the heart of the problem is governance processes that will work across jurisdictional boundaries. For than one has to look to the City of London and bodies like CEDR or Lloyds .

The collapse of faith in democracy, off-line and well as on-line

The world is now awash with fake identities while the information needed to electronically impersonate almost all those worth impersonating can be acquired more easily than most of us can open a new UK bank account. One consequence is that any attempt at on-line democracy risk being swamped by armies of imaginary voters – not just a few catfish creating false identities for personal reasons but million strong groups created to support click fraud with automatically created personalities, mashed up from genuine personal data and evolving over time to bypass bot detection algorithms as the latter also evolve.

Meanwhile the combination of on-line voter registration and postal voting has spread the problem of stolen elections to the off-line world. In the UK, 38% of voter registrations made during the referendum campaign in 2016 are now known to have been duplicates. The Electoral Commission has yet to collate data on the 2017 General Election but preliminary estimates for individual districts range from 30% – 70% with 4.9 million registrations (nearly a million on the last day) giving a net 1.4 million duplicate registrations. The Commission is looking at ways of reducing accidental duplication but is not attempting to estimate how many not only registered from more than one address but voted more than once in the same election. An exercise to do this would be relatively easy, using 1970s technology to compare collated electoral registers with the files of Experian, Call Credit, Lexis Nexis to identify multiple registrations and then check for multiple voting. If the problem is indeed significant (e.g. 20 – 30 seats “stolen” in the 2017 General Election) the means of addressing 90% of the problem may be relatively simple: instituting cut-off dates a fortnight before polling day for both electoral registration and postal voting. This would enable a national exercise to identify duplicates in advance of polling day, with postal votes invalidated and automated court proceedings to each address. This process would not be fool proof but would help restore faith that elections can only be “stolen” by politicians lying to the voters and/or Russian, Macedonian or other fake news stories. The main obstacle appears to be the fear of admitting that the UK still has an election system that would disgrace a banana republic .

One of the joys of social media over the last couple of days has been to watch as Remoaners accuse Brexiteers of “stealing” the referendum, only for evidence to emerge that their own behaviour was even more egregious. But the wipe-out of sources of local news and views as national and international on-line news and advertising media wiped out local journalism, was a heavy price to pay for such joys. Before Christmas I spent three months trying to make sense of the policies of our local authority, how they were actually being implemented and what local residents thought about them. That which used to be covered in the local South London press is now covered nowhere.  I also spent time trying to find a local jeweller to repair a piece that had no value, beyond sentimental. None of the main search engines led me to the one (more an old-fashioned, independent junk repair shop) that I found via an enquiry on Facebook local.

Current Internet business models, not just the war of the algorithms, appear to be in the process of wiping out well-informed democracy in parallel with the local high street and out-of-town shopping mall.

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