The weekly summary of tech policy and politics Issue 48 / 22 October 2021
Anonymity online is at risk
Following the murder of Sir David Amess MP, there have been calls from MPs to limit or ban online anonymity, and suggestions from Cabinet members that they agree. The fact that Amess was seemingly murdered by an extremist and that it had nothing to do with online anonymity doesn't appear to matter.
There are people, both in and out of Parliament, who have long been opposed to online anonymity. They might have been abused online, or they might just not like the idea of it. If we are blunt, they are using Amess's murder to try to push through an agenda rather than to stop something similar happening.
Anonymity online (and offline) is crucial and it must be protected. It lets people explore ideas and identities without undue repercussion, it lets people whistleblow, it lets people find help, and it makes information more freely and widely available. These are all good things, and worth protecting even if anonymity was some terrible scourge.
But it's not. People who want to be racist, or sexist, or otherwise vile are very often happy to do it using their real names. So, when you see someone calling for a ban on anonymity online, know that it is attack on freedom of speech and nothing else.
Other stories this week
The Online Safety Bill may be coming sooner than we thought (link)
Keir Starmer bounced the PM into committing to have the Online Safety Bill's second reading before the end of this calendar year. That gives the Government six days from the Joint Committee's report to consider it, redraft it, introduce it, and have second reading. That is, in real terms, impossible. Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to row back on this during Business Questions, but the PM is going to have to jump on one of two grenades. Either he's ignoring the Joint Committee, or he's breaking a promise he made to the House.
As part of the UK's Global Investment Summit this week, the PM and the man who invented VLOOKUP announced a partnership worth £400m to bring technologies to market that will support the transition to net zero.
The UK and New Zealand have agreed a trade deal in principle. Among other things, it includes commitments to facilitate data transfer (but seemingly not personal data, presumably to maintain adequacy with the EU). I'm hearing there is also a requirement for New Zealand's PM Jacinda Arden to delete this tweet.
Consultations to note
Central Bank Digital Currencies: The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (link) - opened 16/09/21, closing 15/10/21.
Reporting rules for digital platforms: HMRC (link) - opened 30/07/21, closing 22/10/21.
Audience protection standards on Video-on-Demand Services: DCMS (link) - opened 31/08/21, closing 26/10/21.
Data: a new direction: DCMS (link) - opened 10/09/21, closing 19/11/21.
Wireless Infrastructure Strategy: DCMS (link) - opened 14/10/21, closing 25/11/21.
Regulation of Buy-Now Pay-Later: HM Treasury (link) - opened 21/10/21, closing 06/01/22.
Next week in Parliament
On Monday the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill will hear from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. I expect that'll be a quiet one.
On Tuesday the DCMS Committee will take evidence on online safety and online harms. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee will take evidence on Central Bank Digital Currencies.
On Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver both the Spending Review and the Budget. If it's anything like his Conference speech, it will be wildly pro-tech. The Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill will take more oral evidence.
What I've been reading and listening to
Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Michael Lewis: The Big Short
My recent work
Taso Advisory is hiring
We're hiring again at Taso Advisory. We're looking for someone to join the team in a senior role. They'll have a real expertise in and passion for tech policy. They'll have the chance to participate in and help to shape our rapid growth. Is that you? Or do you know someone? More details are here.
Online Safety Bill messaging workshops
Taso Advisory ran a messaging workshop for companies who wanted to engage with the Online Safety Bill. If we can help you and your team to prepare your messages for policy and political challenges, get in touch.
If you'd like a conversation about how either Taso Advisory or Greenstone Research can support you, please just get in touch.
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Ben is the managing director of Taso Advisory, a public policy consultancy, and the director of Greenstone Research, a subscription policy research service. Before this, Ben was an adviser to UK government ministers, including two ministers with responsibility for digital and the creative industries.