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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

My Picks from Your Freedom

Last week Nick Clegg launched the Your Freedom website as a forum for the public to suggest how the law could be changed to restore and protect civil liberties, reduce state intrusion and cut some of the red tape associated with running a business.

Jump straight to my top 5 suggestions from the site

Whether or not you believe the site will have any impact on government decision making - personally I'm optimistic - the site has received a substantial number of ideas since the launch 5 days ago.

I like the simple "go do it" approach, and the website itself is most definitely fit for purpose.  It's simple in operation, obviously (well, hopefully) hasn't had an obscene amount of taxpayer money thrown at it, is fast to load and registration is extremely simple. 

Importantly, the site operates as a proper forum.

Unlike the e-petitions section on the Number 10 website, there's no pre-moderation of submissions.  Shock/horror! This is a government website where the government has not attempted to control proceedings but instead embrace the power of user-created content.

One of the weaker points of the site is the number of duplicate suggestions, caused by the simple structure and lack of pre-moderation I trumpeted earlier(!) - the onus is on the submitter to use the site's adequate search feature and tag cloud to research other similar entries before creating a new one.  This isn't ideal but on balance is probably an acceptable compromise (I don't want to see pre-moderation and I certainly don't want to see large amounts of government cash thrown into solving a minor problem).

The problem of duplicates is exacerbated by the conceptual overlap between two of the categories: restoring civil liberties and repeal unnecessary laws.  In many cases repealing an unnecessary law also has a positive impact on civil liberties and so, at the time of writing, requests to repeal the Digital Economy Act 2010 appear multiple times under each category.

I'm hopeful that the problem of duplicates can be mitigated when the results are analysed using either simple keyword matching or more sophisticated semantic analysis to pool the votes for near-identical proposals.

Here's my top 5  from the proposals made to date, feel free to vote for any you agree with in order to bolster support!

1. Repeal the Digital Economy Bill (sic, should be Act)
 - I've written enough about this already!

2. End IR35 
 - Unfair legislation that affects small businesses and, in all likelihood, costs more to administer and enforce by HMRC than it yields in tax revenues and adds to red tape and running costs for independent consultants like me.

3. Fix the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
 - I've linked to search results rather than a specific idea because there are several ideas to fix this monster problem.  RIPA was intended to regulate police and other authorities' powers to use intrusive surveillance.  It succeeded the Interception of Communications Act 1985 but also attempted to regulate even basic close surveillance of suspects in a public place.  Furthermore it introduced an extremely illiberal and intrusive crime of failure to disclose encryption keys, which could lead to a severe miscarriage of justice for IT professionals like myself who dabble with encryption techniques on behalf of clients then forget that we've even created an encrypted volume, never mind log and retain the keys.

The problems with this act are fourfold: it gives police powers to access some private communications data without a warrant, it required councils and other bodies to file unnecessary paperwork when undertaking surveillance in a public place (eg. to prevent dog fouling), it gives elevated powers to councils to access private communications, a power that should in my mind be reserved for the police, and it is not fit for purpose in the digital age since the sections dealing with interception of electronic communications do not specifically define how to handle internet communications such as IP packets.

In summary, the whole act needs replacing.

4. Repeal s57 of the Finance Act 2010 which allows opening of postal mail without a warrant
- A powerful change to the law was made in the rush to pass the Finance Bill at the fag-end of the last parliament.  Section 57 of the Finance Act 2010 amends the Postal Services Act 2000 to allow post to be opened without a warrant and without the presence of the recipient.

To hide such a wide-ranging change to the law in the budget and to rush through parliament during the wash-up I see is itself an affront to our parliamentary democracy.

5. Scrap the P11D return of benefits and expenses form 
 - If you're involved with the running of a company and know about P11d forms, you'd probably agree with me that this crazy bit of red tape, which was an attempt to stop expenses being used as a way of avoiding tax, represents a large burden on small businesses and, like IR35 legislation above, I feel represents a penny-pinching bureaucratic burden on small businesses and probably yields very little in way of increased tax revenues.



  1. you lib dems are full of shit how can you claim to stand up for freedom and wont allow hunting or put a stop to the smoking ban?!

    freedom is subjective - free to do anything you agree with but anything else is off limits, eh?

  2. Having worked my way through Your Freedom last night (that sentence didn't sound strange) I'm glad to see I had picked much the same as you.

    I had missed s57 of the Finance Act 2010 though so thank you!


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