Posts Tagged internet

Inspired by the ISPAs

I’m thrilled to have been nominated as a finalist for the 2010 ISPA Internet Hero award.

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) has been organising the UK Internet Industry Awards since 1999, a series of worthy professional gongs designed, as their PR says, “to herald the best of the Internet industry and to celebrate innovation and best practice”.

To add a certain spice to the event, there are also awards for Internet Hero and Internet Villain. According to my citation for the Hero award, I was nominated for my campaign organising a grass roots challenge to the Digital Economy Bill.

As LibDems will recall, this challenge was to change party policy in the runup to the Bill going through the Commons, after Cory Doctorow had contacted me, concerned that Lib Dem peers were not doing enough to oppose its draconian measures on web-blocking and disconnection.

I organised an open letter from candidates to our MPs and peers, and together with Obhi Chatterjee and others then wrote an emergency motion for the party’s spring conference; I proposed it, Julian Huppert seconded, and it was overwhelmingly passed. The campaign was backed by stalwarts Mike Cooper, David Wright, and David Matthewman among others.

Our campaign led to a change in Liberal Democrat party policy, with the party’s MPs then voting against the Bill at its third reading. David Matthewman has since ensured that digital rights stay on the agenda of the coalition, with an amendment at the party’s post-election special conference. Julian Huppert is now MP for Cambridge and in an excellent position to continue to champion digital freedom within Parliament. And Richard Allan, who joined Cory and me in a delegation to lobby our DCMS frontbenchers, is now a peer himself. (Best not mention the nominees for internet villain….).

So I am really only one campaigner amongst many – but still delighted to be nominated!

The winners will be announced tomorrow night at what is inevitably described as “a glittering awards ceremony”. Hero nomination notwithstanding, I’m told the dress code is black tie, not cape and tights….


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Digital Economy Bill and web-blocking: the debate continues

The emergency motion to LibDem conference on ‘Freedom, creativity and the internet’ has passed its first hurdle, having been approved by our Federal Conference Committee for debate.

Although slightly shortened to meet the criteria for emergency motions, it’s added a request for a proper policy working group on the issues, which if passed means we can get a decent IT policy going forward.

Still two stages to go. Just as potential candidates have to go on the approved list, then get selected for a seat, before fighting an election, so our motion now has to get selected before conference has a chance to debate it.

That selection takes place later today, in a conference vote just before 11am. I will be pounding the streets of Islington, awaiting the verdict from Birmingham, while my colleague Julian Huppert speaks up for our motion at conference.

Last night I was up in Brum myself, promoting our motion in particular, and the idea that LibDems should stand up against authoritarianism in general, at the LibDem Voice fringe meeting. It was great to have LibDem Chief Whip Paul Burstow acknowledge the good work behind our motion, and to hear him urge conference reps to turn up and vote for it.

The centrepiece of the meeting was the launch of the new ‘Rank your MP’ site – or, as Alex Wilcock mischeviously renamed it, ‘How rank is your MP?’. It looks at how liberal or authoritarian your MP’s voting record is. In an age where traditional party political loyalties break down and people are passionate on individual issues, this is great way to help floating voters pin down where their MPs are coming from.

If our motion wins today’s vote, I’ll be coming back to Birmingham to debate it on Sunday morning. That high-speed rail link can’t come soon enough….

Earlier in the week I was debating the web-blocking bill, plus issues as diverse as hung parliaments and the future of Royal Mail, without having to leave the constituency. Not a local hustings, but the House of Comments podcast, convened by Mark Thompson of MarkReckons.

It’s yet another example of the liberating power of the internet that our panel could meet and debate from many locations on equal terms, in my case from the comfort of the Islington LibDem office. This led to an unintentional comedy moment as some of our returning canvassers were greeted by me waving a handwritten “I’m on air!” sign, and had to resort to impromptu mime.

Mark Thompson was webcasting again this week, debating the role of the internet in elections as part of the panel for a Savvy Citizens debate, which makes for interesting listening. The ‘Savvy Citizens’ initiative helps people become savvier in how they use information in today’s information society. Peers take note.

Actually our peers have been taking note and there is already some movement.

We should not underestimate the power of online campaigning to change thinking on single issues, and to mobilise groups of people on particular causes. Our emergency motion is proof of that, with LibDem campaigners all over the UK and beyond working to make it happen.

For me, campaigning on the doorstep is still as important as campaigning on the laptop, which is why I’ll be back out on the streets of N1 today. And hoping for the call to summon me back to Brum tomorrow.

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On the fringe: children and technology

For once, I didn’t have to agonise over which speaker to hear at 6.15pm yesterday, because I was on speaking duty myself.

Some weeks ago I agreed to be a guest speaker at a fringe meeting on children and technology..

Organising fringe meetings is a nerve-wracking business. In the early 1990s I was chair of LINk, a think-tank of the day, and I well remember the dilemmas over size of room, speakers, etc. If you go for a small room you’ll get mobbed, a large one and you rattle around. The worst situation is where the panel outnumbers the audience – entirely possible when there are 40 or more meetings at the same time – and you feel you’ve let your speakers down.

Our meeting hosts, Vodaphone, seemed to have got it right: with an interested audience and a diverse panel. Andrew Peart from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers was concerned about cyber-bullying, while Cary Bazalgette, a media literacy expert (and Islington resident!) was arguing that children need freedom to explore and create in order to learn.

We heard from Lesley Gannon from the National Association of Head Teachers about policy development, and from Annie Mullins of Vodaphone (and chair of the Home Office task force on internet & child protection) about the industry’s response.

The internet is an almost impossible area to regulate, even if you can agree what regulation is needed.

For example, YouTube can’t screen all the material posted there without employing hundreds, possibly thousands of staff: at which point you have to charge for YouTube – and then its whole nature changes.

My views? Technology leaps generations (remember people saying they needed their children to programme the video player?) so while adults have to adapt to new technology, for young people it’s as mainstream as fridges and phones are to their parents.

The challenges for teachers are the same teaching web safety as road safety, the same teaching netiquette as etiquette; it’s less about banning things, more about teaching our children to navigate them safely and responsibly. My problem with ‘happy slapping’ is the slap not the snap.

Worrying about ‘the youth of today’ and worrying about the subversive effects of new technology are both age-old. So is trying to get the balance right between freedom and safety.

One questioner suggested restrictions on material with ‘teachers’ and ‘fighting’ in the title. But where would that leave a webstory about “teachers fighting cyber-bullying”?

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Georgia on my mind

In my Guardian blog this week, I referred to the traditional view that sport has taken the place of war between democracies (so where does that leave Russia vs Georgia?).

Now it looks as if we may have e-war, with reports that Russia’s first attacks on Georgia were online. Apparently, Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was “reduced to communicating through a Google-hosted blogging account”.

Perhaps their blog didn’t reach Sky News….

Mind you, we nearly had a little bit of Georgia here in Islington. One of the many barmy ideas of the old Labour administration was to flog off the old Finsbury town hall to the Republic of Georgia. Thankfully that didn’t happen; under the Lib Dems, Finsbury Town Hall was sold to Urdang Dance Academy instead and is now available for community use once more.

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Is there something else you should be doing instead of being online? HassleMe is a very useful tool; you can use it to set up email you reminders for, well, anything from eye tests to the dry cleaning. It’s not a diary tool; no specific times, and the reminder date can be slightly random. But that’s part of its charm; an unexpected reminder before something’s overdue can be just what you need.

It’s very simple to set up, use and amend. My only complaint? it won’t actually do the chores for you….

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Giving with a click

I’ve just received this email from my friend Fiona up in Fife
that I thought was worth sharing:
I have discovered a new Internet search engine which allows you to help raise money for charity when you use it for searching.

If you use as your search engine every search you do can raise money for a specified charity. It is just like Google! Even if you know the address of the website you are looking for, if you go via to get there, the charity benefits.

I found out about this from the Scottish Cot Death Trust so if I go to to do a search, I help to raise money for the Trust.

I just thought I would let you all know about this very useful search engine as there may be a charity that you would like to help raise money for.”

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