Liberal Democrats promise ‘Digital Bill of Rights’

The Lib Dems pledged to double government 'innovation' spending on technology and digital industries and expand the existing tech cluster network.

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The Liberal Democrats proposed a Digital Bill of Rights to protect citizens from blanket online data collection and surveillance and enshrine net neutrality in their manifesto this week.

The bill would aim to safeguard internet freedom and citizens’ digital rights, set stricter limits on online surveillance and ban wholesale collection of UK residents' personal communications by the police or intelligence agencies.

The Lib Dems promised to oppose the introduction of the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. In contrast, the Tories restated their support for the bill in their manifesto, while Labour did not set out a position on the issue. 

The Lib Dems were the only party to make specific commitments regarding the Government Digital Service (GDS) in their manifesto.

It promised to ‘maintain and develop’ GDS and the principle that public services, including local government, should be ‘digital by default’.

The Lib Dems were also the only party to say they would introduce ‘Technology Impact Assessments’ into the policy-making process to “ensure the technology implications of government activity are properly considered” beforehand.

The party pledged to continue releasing government information as open data, to help improve standards and support the launch of new companies. Both Labour and Conservatives also backed the open data agenda in their manifestos.

The Lib Dem manifesto said high speed broadband would be made available to “almost” every household (99.9 percent) plus small businesses in both rural and urban areas. Labour promised affordable high speed broadband "for all" by 2020, while the Tories reiterated their promise to provide superfast broadband coverage to 95 percent of the UK by the end of 2017.

The party promised to double ‘innovation spend’ into hi-tech manufacturing, clean technology and digital industries. For example it would expand ‘Catapult’ innovation centres and the existing network of tech clusters, including Tech City, a promise echoed by both Labour and the Conservatives.

They also committed to promote the take-up of STEM subjects in schools and develop ‘cutting-edge’ digital skills courses for young and unemployed people.

The Lib Dems said they would work to ensure the UK is an attractive destination for overseas students, particularly those studying STEM topics, for example by reinstating post-study work visas. Specific issues regarding STEM skills were not tackled by the other parties in their manifestos. 

The manifesto also included an aim to double the number of firms hiring apprentices and pledged more support for fast-growing ‘scale-up’ businesses. The Tories promised to increase the number of apprenticeships from 2.2 million to five million, while Labour said it would offer every qualified school leaver an apprenticeship and require any firm that wins a big government contract to offer apprenticeships.