Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The New Statesman, on Living in the Silicon Cul de Sac

I love it:the New Statesman on why the UK Digerati are never going to be as sexy as their US counterparts (and look, ma, ORG has Americans in it too! shoot at will! hi , Jordan :-)

"[Cory} Doctorow leaves in his wake a newly formed UK advocacy team, the Open Rights Group. But there is one lingering question: why does Britain need "outreach" from North America when it comes to campaigning for digital rights? After all, it was a British man who invented the worldwide web. Why, when the US gets Silicon Valley with all its alt:latte cool and laptop-toting liberalism, are we stuck with the Silicon Corridor, nestled in the UK's debt heartland, Reading?

.. We British don't like to brag about it, but this country is still a home for some of the world's best open-source coders - Ben Laurie, who coded the security software that deals with most credit card transactions online, and Alan Cox, until recently second lieutenant in coding and maintaining a core part of the open-source operating system Linux, among others. So it seems silly that we should need help from the US to keep the digital future fair.

The truth is, it's the politics that keeps digital-rights campaigning so unsexy on this side of the Atlantic. In America, lawyers such as Lawrence Lessig can swan in and out of the Supreme Court at leisure, filing suits against the state for offences to free speech with the help of the good old US constitution. In Britain, we have to rely on legislation from Brussels. There have been significant victories on digital-rights issues in Europe, most notably the European Parliament's decision to reject the idea of extending patent law to cover software code and business models. But the lack of understanding about Europe's political processes and values makes campaigning on digital rights that much harder. "

Leaving aside the small matter that the European Convention on Human Rights is NOT legislation from Brussels, actually I think the problem is that we Brits just can't make grand statements with a straight face the way the Americans can. We haven't got the evangelical upbringing, the oral rhetoric of US culture. We're far less likely to be found saying things like "Digital rights are essential if we are to avoid being the DRM-ed slaves of the next Microserf generation" and more "That last episode of Dr Who last night was good wasn't it? Now, how about a cuppa, and er, about this ID cards business.."

(via Ben Lauries's blog)


Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the small matter that the European Convention on Human Rights is NOT legislation from Brussels

But the New Statesman quote, as I read it, doesn't suggest anything of the kind -- it's talking of digital rights, not human rights, which will be caught (or covered) by a different law.

pangloss said...

Digital rights aren't seperate from human rights. They might however be seen as intereseting venn diagram sets. "Rights" law in the UK, as you know, isn't tidied away into one neat constitution. So human rights are now guaranteed by the HRA 98 - which has enormous relevance to "digital rights" - eg privacy rights against electronic surveillnace, free speech rights miught be invoked against web censorhip. "Digital rights" in the sense you're menaing, I suspect, however, also emanate from laws like the law of copyright: whether eg people have the right to download educational copyright materials. I would strongly oppose an attempt to seperate digital rights from "rioghts" (rather like the recent LJ furore about do you support "gay rights", not rights for everyone, including gay poeople.)