Saturday, 13 June 2015

Internet Magna Carta

Somehow I missed this.

Thousands of young people have taken part in a UK debate about what should be included in a "Magna Carta" for the digital age.

In case you don’t know, the original Magna Carta (“Great Charter”)  of 1215 was a document signed by King John to effectively curtail his powers and grant protection to various people and organisations (mostly nobles and, needless to say, the church).  It was largely ignored and was repealed and re-instated many times in different forms, which sounds like an ideal analogy for any such agreement for the digital age.

But it’s an interesting and fun idea.

The public can now vote online for the clauses [the thousands of young people suggested, in a project organised by the British Library.

I’m all for that as an exercise to find out what people want and how they think about things, even though it won’t have any effect on how laws develop.  Not everything has to be practical.

Their most popular priority was safety on the net, followed by protecting freedom of speech and privacy.

You see? That’s encouraging news.

According to analysts ComRes, 29% of people aged 10-18 opted specifically for safety while 17% chose freedom of speech as a clause they wanted to support.

I don’t know whether those votes overlap.  It would be strange if they could only choose one.  Freedom of speech and safety are hard to untangle anyway; freedom of speech is about some kinds of safety and requires safety. Safety requires, among other things, freedom of speech.

"Nearly half of the clauses talked about students wanting to feel safe and protected online," project manager Sarah Shaw told the BBC.

"We thought there would be more talk about freedom online, and not so much talk on more of a conservative manner."

Shaw seems almost disappointed that the young people said things she didn’t expect. It doesn’t surprise me very much that they valued safety above freedom, especially since those categories overlap so much.  It would be interesting to see the demographics of the people taking part.  Are many of them likely to have come across serious curtailment of their freedom? I’m not sure freedom was something I thought about until much later in life, but then I pretty much ran wild as a kid.  I knew about safety, though. We had stranger-danger drilled into us at primary school as well as (at least for us rural kids), the notorious and unintentionally hilarious public safety film which featured an entire group of kids meeting horrific ends on a farm. Besides:

Seven of the existing top 10 clauses mention freedom.

That seems like a lot to me.

"Several clauses talked about wanting cyber-police," she said.

We tell young people that the police are their friends and there to help them. An extraordinary idea to be sure but we should hardly be surprised when they suggest an internet police force.  I’m sure they’re thinking of a group of people with special powers who are there to protect us from harm, which is what we told them the real police were in the first place, for some reason.

Anyway, an interesting, if limited, experiment. It’ll be interesting to find out what varieties of young people they asked.

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