I’ve spent the last couple of years working as a lobbyist. Not the most respected of job titles, granted.
I prefer to style myself as a citizen or white-hat lobbyist, since I set out to counter the dross, spin and lies pushed by well-connected people to get the policies their vested paymasters desire.
Not that I begrudge any business the opportunity to promote their agenda and make an honest buck.
But there is a problem. In a complex emerging legislative area - internet policy - there is a vacuum of knowledge and understanding amongst MPs, ministers and government officials.
And this vacuum is currently filled by a non-representative group of professional lobbyists at the expense of wider voices from consumers, community developers, start-ups and the general public.
So I set out to fight first for the ordinary Netizen and then, with the foundation of Open Digital, to give a voice to innovative and ethical tech businesses amongst the voracious lobbying from incumbents.
Using the internet to gather views on the internet - radical I know - in our first year we ran campaigns with impact, building on my advocacy started on my former blogs Software Psyche (now defunct) and SRoC. In effect, I took a campaign blog and rammed it under the noses of anyone in power who’d listen.
Our report into the business impact of delayed fast 4G mobile data made it into numerous ministerial briefings and was widely reported, including a mention on page two of the Financial Times.
Our views on a Digital Copyright Exchange got an honourable mention in the Hooper diagnostic report on copyright exchanges, and we’ve consistently pushed a privacy agenda from an open market perspective, arguing the need for consumer clarity and that privacy is an enabler for cybersecurity.
We’ve also formulated policy or submitted written evidence on child protection, open data, libel and injunctions, as well as taking an interest in technology and community policing via our continued involvement in another community group, Digital Surrey.
The difference between Open Digital and many other representative organisations is that it’s run by engineers: people who’ve lived software or worked in innovative internet companies.
Our problem is that we’re currently unfunded and struggling to survive, which in some respects typifies the power imbalance which can allow older, struggling businesses to assert undue political influence over emerging enterprises.
The world I’ve seen is alien to most, especially engineers, who tend quite appropriately to believe that arguments should be won and lost on the ability to make a cogent argument grounded in fact rather than shout the loudest.
I hope to use my own shouting on this blog to improve representation in the internet policy debate; to raise awareness of the influence networks and closed-door horse trading which has already lead to ill thought out laws; and to advocate for transparency and openness in policy-making.
I’m not calling for an end to lobbying because lobbying is necessary and, in a way, democratic, if one considers the reality of government and the fanciful idea that any minister can build a firewall around themselves to prevent undue influence.
Instead what I’m hoping to do is persuade anyone with a view to find a voice and get involved in some way. I would like to see those in power hear a better balance of views on the future of the internet and digital technology.