The outcome of Brexit is an indicator of another worrying political trend that has emerged in the last 10 years: Young people are getting more and more detached from politics, thus leaving the decision-making to the baby boomers – and sometimes even their parents! Understandably, this phenomenon is nowhere more apparent than it is in the field of digital rights. Considering how technology and the digital reality make the bulk of our everyday life in the West, and how the Internet truly does affect us all, digital rights are just not on the national political and legislative agenda enough.
EU vs. UK conversation on digital rights
In previous years, valuable directives and decisions regarding digital rights policies that positively affected the national stand came straight from Brussels. The EU’s legislation is continuously making valuable efforts in protecting the digital rights of its citizens, and has played a major role in three major instances: rejecting the Data Retention Directive as well as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACT), and bringing the Net neutrality legislation. The level of EU activism on digital rights is important not only because of these actions, but also because it brought up the topic of digital rights before the public eye – and made it a topic of open conversation and democratic debate on a supranational level.
Unfortunately, these efforts and result are not echoed on a national level in the majority of EU countries, the UK included. The non-profit federation and global media platform Open Democracy reports that there is not a single word on the protection of EU citizens’ data in the Liberal Democrats, Conservative or Labour manifestos; the only exception being the UK Green Party, which added in its manifesto a section on ‘protecting our Internet freedom’, thus reflecting the same claim in the European Green Manifesto.
Understanding the reasons
Conservative and technologically unaware politicians have not shown interest in making digital rights part of their political mainstream. Is it because they think it will not interest their prospective voters, or do they simply not understand the issues at hand, such as privacy protection, freedom of speech online, net neutrality, online harassment, and so on? There is another aspect to consider, which is the lickety-split speed at which the digital landscape is changing and developing, making it difficult for most to merely keep up. Bill Herman talks about this issue in his book: “The Fight Over Digital Rights: The Politics of Copyright and Technology”. Namely, Herman explains that “another difficulty is merely keeping up with with new developments. In decades past, new technologies arrived at a slow enough pace – and were sufficiently discrete from one another – that scholars could pontificate on their likely meaning while they were still being developed or adopted. Now, the industrialized world is drowned in a barrage of digital devices, features, and services, with many reaching spectacular success or failure before many people even understand what they are for.”
As much as digital rights do not seem to be one of the pressing issues a country is facing, more often than not, they are vital for the solution (or contributing to the solution) of other crucial affairs such as terrorism and fights against corruption, racism, etc. So perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves the question: is it important to us? Would digital rights be at the bottom of the political barrel, if we, the public, have pushed hard enough to bring it up with the people in power?
When the UK severs its ties with the EU for good, we will have to craft and mold our digital policy on our own, without relying on the supranational entity to do this gargantuan job for us. It could be a fantastic opportunity to improve our digital rights and responsibilities, or a failure whose consequences could be far-reaching in more than one aspect.