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MPs understand IT better than IT Professional understand politics

Bryan Glick has just written an excellent piece on why the tech community needs to be active in the politics of the issues that affect it.

I completely agree but first we need the Tech Community to understand more about politics. Too few of them understand corporate or trade association politics, let alone “professional” (and I do not just mean those of BCS or IET) politics.

The problem is compounded by lobbyists who tell politicians that things are impossible when what they really mean is that they do not fit their clients current business models. An example is those who have attempted to rubbish the mix of anonymised age checking and selective blocking which enables cost-effective on-line child and consumer protection. They have also resisted the automated collation of abuse reports allied to processes to track and trace abusers, including across borders. The success of such processes correlates closely with the effort put in, It can be close to 100% in the case of Hollywood films pirated before release – because the studio lawyers have budgets (for legal advice and technical “investigation”) to match those of Google or Microsoft, and “outgun” most Telcos, ISPs or the Domain Name “industry”.

I have now been engaged in trying to help MPs understand IT and IT professionals (users not just suppliers) to understand politics for 40 years.

My problem can be summarised quite succinctly.

MPs have long understood Computers, IT and Digital better than IT professionals or the new Digerati understand politics.

But BOTH “sides” think it is the other way round.

That was why PITCOM was created (in 1981), with the support of the National Computing Centre (which then had over 2,000 USER members) and Computer Weekly (which was then almost entirely funded by Job Adverts). Both were more interested in the use of IT to meet customer and public needs than in the sales pitches of the suppliers and gurus of the day.

So what has changed?

The NCC and the User Groups of the 1970s and 1980s are no more. And Computer Weekly no longer depends on Job Ads. But more MPs than ever before have had a professional background in IT. More-over almost all are now sophisticated personal users of IT, including to filter enormous volumes of constituency and lobbying e-mails into those that matter. Their use of techniques like Twitter or Facebook is limited mainly by their uncertainty as to whether those whom they wish to communicate are using them. The success of UKIP, Brexit and Trump indicates they are correct to be cautious. Few of those who e-mail MPs ever read their tweets. Some MPs think that is because the most vociferous (the digital equivalent of the old “green ink” letter writers) live in not spots where they can barely browse the Internet at all, let alone make effective use of social media.

All that said – one of the most popular events of the EURIM (now DPA) calender used to be an annual reception with the  Computer Weekly 500 Club, when MPs could hear the views of those responsible for making the technology work.

Taking a look at the topics currently before Parliament. There is much more that needs to be said about privacy and surveillance. But not by the “usual suspects”. MPs are only too well aware that most of their voters are far more concerned over the threats from the insecure adware that clogs response times over their PCs as it monitors their every internet look-up, let alone transaction, and tracks their smart phone  where-ever it (albeit not necessarily the owner) goes,  than they are about “threats” from GCHQ or law enforcement.

Meanwhile the rush (? rash) of new UK data centres is in part because major e-commerce and cloud operators know that the consequent consumer backlash means that the days of seamless global clouds are as numbered as the days of offshore call centres in locations that cannot, or will not, survive the implementation of the GDPR.

This morning I received a note on the plans for the PICTFOR programme for the year ahead and was most interested to note how closely it resembles the current Digital Policy Alliance work groups. I hope that before the 2017 is out the two will be working together as closely as PITCOM and EURIM once did.

I would personally like to see that include the exercise to turn Brexit into Flexit, i.e. have cake and eat it.

I will blog on this separately when I can make time but it entails deciding which bits of the Single Market (including in skills) we wish to help the EU to progress, (perhaps paying a reasonable contribution accordingly), and which nationalist derogations and obfuscations we need like a hole in the head. I would remind readers that under “the Digital Single Market we have not yet got” it is easier to route many on-line transactions via the US (or increasingly via China), not just via the local operations of US players.

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