Labour commits to open source
For ordinary citizens perhaps the most significant feature is its universal service commitment.
We will deliver high speed broadband and mobile connectivity for every household, company and organisation in Britain from the inner city neighbourhoods to the remotest rural community. The National Investment Bank will fund the public sector backbone of this vital infrastructure project, regional banks will support local access cooperatives and Ofcom will coordinate the private telecoms companies’ contribution to its realisation. Because ubiquitous access to digital networks is now a prerequisite of 21st century life and business, we will ensure that high speed broadband and mobile connectivity is available at the same low price without any data transfer cap across the whole country.
That definitely sounds better than the present government’s commitment to a universal 10 Mbps broadband service (news passim), although how good such a commitment is will ultimately depend on the party’s definition of what constitutes “high speed“.
Mr Corbyn pledged a “bill of rights” for internet users who would be entitled to a “digital citizen passport” which would ostensibly provide a secure and portable identity for their online and data activities.
The previous Labour government tried to introduce identity cards to the UK – something it has previously only imposed during wartime. It ultimately dropped that idea after major public outcry. Will the new “digital citizen passport” be an online version of the ID card? I think we should be told, to echo the cry of Private Eye down the decades.
A further interesting aspect of the digital agenda comes under the heading of “Programming for All“, i.e.
We will encourage publicly funded software and hardware to be released under an Open Source licence. Where possible, government agencies will upgrade their computers and networks with these improved versions of democratic programming. The National Education Service will enthuse both children and adults to learn how to write software and to build hardware. Public bodies will financially reward staff technicians who significantly contribute to Open Source projects. We will host official events which celebrate the achievements of both the professional and hobbyist designers of the networked future.
This would bring the UK public sector into line with the United States, where the Obama administration has been actively promoting the use of open source software (such as Drupal for the White House website. Ed.) and recently released its federal source code policy (news passim).
Other ideas that sound attractive at the launch of the digital agenda were:
- a clamp-down on “unwarranted snooping” via CCTV;
- consultation on online voting for elections;
- a commitment to open publishing for academic research papers, as reported by The Canary.
Of course, it must remembered that politicians’ promises are more often than not like pie-crust and to implement his digital manifesto Mr Corbyn still faces twin obstacles of surviving the current challenge to his leadership of the party and then winning the next election – whenever that happens to be.