21 November 2010

Digital Society vs. Digital Economy Act

Here's an interesting move:

Britons will be forced to apply online for government services such as student loans, driving licences, passports and benefits under cost-cutting plans to be unveiled this week.

Officials say getting rid of all paper applications could save billions of pounds. They insist that vulnerable groups will be able to fill in forms digitally at their local post offices.

The plans are likely to infuriate millions of people. Around 27% of households still have no internet connection at home and six million people aged over 65 have never used the web.

Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said: "We must cut costs and boost post offices as much as we possibly can, but many millions of people – not just pensioners – are not online and never will be. They must never be made to feel the state treats them as second-class citizens."

As an out-and-out technophile, I have a lot of sympathy with this move. After all, it's really akin to moving everyone to electricity. But it does mean that strenuous efforts must be made to ensure that everyone really has ready access to the Internet.

And that, of course, is a bit of a problem when the ultimate sanction of the Digital Economy Act is to block people's access (even if the government tries to deny that it will "disconnect" people - it amounts to the same thing, whatever the words.) If, as this suggests and I think is right, the Internet becomes an absolutely indispensable means of exercising key rights (like being able to communicate with the government) then it inevitably makes taking those rights away even more problematic.

So I predict that the more the present coaltion pushes in this direction, the more difficulties it will have down the line with courts unimpressed with people being disadvantaged so seriously for allegedly infringing on a government-granted monopoly: this makes a response that was never proportionate to begin with even more disproportionate.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.


Anonymous said...

A brave and intelligent decision by the government: Put the entire population's personal info, bank details, driving licences, passports, etc, into a giant database built by company that submits the lowest tender. What could possibly go wrong?

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, that's a good point. But I think the key words are "giant database", which has shown itself to be about the most stupid thing you can do in a networked environment.

Distributed, federated databases are your friend...

zotz said...

I like the point but the tweak will be a whitelist surely. Sites that you can always get to even after you have been booted. Of course who is going to pay for such a limited connection?

Glyn Moody said...

@zotz: true, but no white list will be able to keep up with changes, so people will always be shut out from something important.

Dave Levy said...

I think you're right. It's broader than the last throw of the entertainment industry though.

Govt's need their citizens online and entertainment copyright and profits get in the way.

Govt's need cheap software, and software copyright and profits get in the way.

Who you going to call?

Glyn Moody said...

@Dave: here's hoping...