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Digital bill of rights to be crowdsourced from British citizens

Want a say in laws about who has access to your data or government surveillance? This could be your chance.

Digital Liberties

A year on from Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Internet, calling for an Internet Magna Carta, the creation of a bill of digital rights is on the UK's political agenda.

Politicians and members of a number of digital rights organisations gathered in Parliament on Thursday to launch the "Digital Liberties" campaign through which they are hoping to crowdsource a bill that might eventually become law in the UK.

In the wake of revelations about widespread mass surveillance, sharing of health data, major cyber attacks and the invalidation of the agreement allowing European citizen data to be transmitted back to the US, the campaign hopes to establish rules governing data and surveillance. The hope is to ensure the rules will enshrine the privacy and rights of UK citizens and enable small businesses to compete in the global economy, without negatively impacting national security.

The campaigners have not yet decided how the crowdsourcing will be carried out, but it is likely to take place this summer following the EU referendum. Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor John Macdonald said at the campaign launch he hopes the bill will be within the next six months so that it can be submitted for consideration by Parliament over the following six months.

"There is a real pressure of time because people are feeling insecure in their work online and as individual citizens as well," he said.

A major part of enshrining the bill in law will be ensuring it is well put together enough that the different political parties agree on it. This will mean making it a cross-party effort from the beginning. Joining Macdonald yesterday were former Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, deputy leader of the Green Party Shahrar Ali, but Conservative MPs.

It is a critical moment in the UK for Internet rights activists as Parliament is currently considering the Investigatory Powers bill, known as the Snooper's Charter. The bill seeks to extend and enshrine in law far-reaching surveillance activities that the government has already been partaking in and might want to partake in at some point in the future.

A major point of contention likely to be at the heart of the bill is the perceived tussle between national security and personal privacy. Speaking at the launch, Huppert said that it was possible to strive to improve both by reallocating resources that were currently put into mass surveillance and using them to monitor and analyse data collected from those posing a genuine threat to national security instead.

"You can't have perfect privacy and perfect security," he said. "But right now, we don't have perfect either."