Lucy Powell Shows Yet Again That MPs Don’t Have a Clue About The Internet

If you don’t know what you’re talking about then don’t try and legislate on it.

The arrogance of politicians never fails to astound. Politicians get the chance to create laws on anything they want but it would be utterly joyous if just for one moment they’d actually consider doing some research beforehand. Instead though, we get MPs after a bit of media attention trying to wage some great moral campaign by actually pushing for changes that would harm marginalised people the most. It’s a pattern that repeats again and again. It’s insipid and exhausting. The latest offender: Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell.

For the last decade, politicians (and especially Labour politicians) have struggled to get rid of the idea that they’re going to push mass surveillance and censorship on us. Although the narrative certainly has changed in the last ten to fifteen years. While before it was assumed that this would be because politicians had some great omniscient plan to protect us, actually it turns out that they’re completely uneducated in the area of technology but they so desperately want to interfere with it. This is a big reason why people like Jack and Mark Zuckerberg are never held to account too – because politicians who have power are utterly useless at wielding it properly.

Powell, in what is surely from a place of righteous concern, is pushing for legislation that would shut down secret groups. It’s supposed to be aimed at hate groups, although given how utterly shambolic this proposal is it’s safe to assume that Powell has not consulted many marginalised people who are the overwhelming victims of hate.

“Politicians are completely uneducated in the area of technology but they so desperately want to interfere with it.

Everyone has been crying out for hate groups online to be tackled, but when people who are utterly incompetent try to get involved what actually happens is that the fear for marginalised people actually increases. The bill would stop people using closed forums. It’s no surprise. There has been a lot of talk about disrupting anonymity online and basically any safe space. Powell argues that this is aimed at banning groups of a certain size but that’s simply nonsensical. Size has nothing to do with content. Is a secret group dedicated for trans people who can’t be out publicly going to get banned if it has more than 500 members?

The bill is so broad that basically if you’re a member of a private or secret group then you could be breaking the law. Doesn’t matter what that group is – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a safe space to get away from hate. This is such an ignorant and catastrophic proposal from someone who’s clearly not stopped for one minute to even consider the fact that for some marginalised people, online spaces are the only safe spaces in their life. They might be the only form of communication they have. If Powell really wants to clamp down on hate then why doesn’t she speak up for trans women under constant attack? Why doesn’t she call out Corbyn when he attacks freedom of movement? Where was she years ago when women – especially trans women and women of colour – were targeted by online hate constantly through Gamergate?

Queer people especially are more likely to join secret groups because it so often simply isn’t safe to be publicly out. She’s actively disrupting the queer community’s safety by proposing such a bill. She could have put forward something actually specific in tackling right wing, white supremacist and queermisic hate but she didn’t. This bill is cowardly as well as disastrous. The problem is the rest of Parliament is as thoroughly uninformed on technology.


2 thoughts on “Lucy Powell Shows Yet Again That MPs Don’t Have a Clue About The Internet

  1. There’s more. These days, private/secret groups are how a lot of organisations conduct business (it’s become practically essential to multi-site operations involving information exchange). Lots of multi-site entities that support marginalised people will face extra expenses as they are obliged to switch from free technologies like Skype (technically a private online group platform) or Microsoft Teams (also technically a private online group platform) to expensive systems like standalone videoconferencing systems (that depending on how sloppily-worded the bill is, could be banned also, forcing face-to-face meetings for any group wishing to remain above the law).

    Businesses will probably flout the law in the knowledge that their independence of government limits enforcement, central government will likely spend taxpayer money converting their systems… but charities often depend on the government – and have little or no money to spend on the more expensive ways to communicate between sites. So not only are vulnerable people going to lose their modes of communication; they will also lose yet more charitable assistance.

    I wonder if telling the government how much it would cost it to come into compliance with its own law would convince them to stop supporting it?


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