The 2010 Conservative manifesto and the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto had a number of aims in common. But we can’t judge their record only on those; the creation of the coalition meant that there was also a coalition document, which rolled some of those together.
So how well did the parties that got into power in the UK live up to their manifesto pledges when it comes to technology topics?
The Tories pledged:
p11: “create a better focus on STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] in schools.”
Maths is now the A-level subject taken by the most people (2014 figures)
p24: “authorising ’drugalyser’ technology for use in testing for drug-driving”
this was done in December 2014.
p24: “will scrap Labour’s phone tax and instead require BT and other infrastructure providers to allow the use of their assets to deliver superfast broadband across the country. If necessary, we will consider using part of the licence fee that is supporting the digital switchover to fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach.”
The coalition did introduce “top-slicing” of the BBC licence fee to help fund broadband rollout. That has been criticised by the outgoing vice-chair of the BBC Trust for eroding the BBC’s independence.
p69: “Publish data so the public can hold government to account – we will create a powerful new right to government data; open up Whitehall recruitment by publishing central government job vacancies online, saving costs and increasing transparency; bring in measures to enable the public to scrutinise the government’s accounts.”
Non-personal government data was opened up, continuing a process that was initiated by Gordon Brown’s government in January 2010. Tim Berners-Lee continued pushing the scheme inside the coalition government, as he had with Labour
Central government job vacancies were published online
Treasury data on spending was released to the public in June 2010, though its COINS database was so difficult to examine that it required specialist teams to work through it and make sense of the data. By 2012 the Guardian was saying that it was “getting harder each year to break down public spending using the government’s accounts” because departments were late – sometimes egregiously so – in publishing their data
p79: “Scrap ID cards, national ID register and Contactpoint database. Replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. Strengthen the powers of the Info Comm to penalise any public body found guilty of mismanaging data … [curtail] the surveillance powers that allow some councils to use anti-terror laws to spy on people making trivial mistakes or minor breaches of the rules; ensuring proper parliamentary scrutiny of any new powers of data sharing; DNA database to be used primarily to store info about those who are guilty rather than those who are innocent”
There were no ID cards to scrap. No national ID register was set up. Contactpoint (intended to create a database of vulnerable children to coordinate social care) was turned off; the Tories defended the move
The Human Rights Act remains in force
The Information Commissioner was given new powers to levy fines in April 2010, and began using them soon after
The use of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) by councils to spy on people was forestalled to some extent, but the coalition tried to introduce an extensive surveillance act in July 2014 – leaning on RIPA – that outraged privacy campaigners, especially in the light of the Snowden revelations over surveillance by GCHQ and the NSA of internet communications
The DNA of around 120,000 children innocent of any crime was stored on the police DNA database from 2011, campaigners said in 2013 based on Freedom of Information requests. Police did not dispute the figures but said they included children whose DNA was taken from crime scenes or to rule them out, as well as arrests on suspicion of crimes
The Lib Dem manifesto pledged:
p17: “better government IT procurement, investigating the potential of different approaches such as cloud computing and open source software”
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has pushed down the cost of IT procurement, including a commitment to investigating open source software where possible; central government now has its own “cloud” service on its internal network
p27 “support public investment in the rollout of superfast broadband, targeted first at those areas which are least likely to be provided for by the market.”
There has been government investment in the rollout of “superfast” (defined as offering speeds of 30 megabits per second or more) broadband. Most has gone to BT due to a lack of competition in the market. There has been little provision in rural areas, which are least likely to be provided for by the market
p51: “tackle online bullying by backing quick-report buttons on social networking sites, enabling offensive postings to be speedily removed.”
Facebook, Twitter and others have moved slowly to deal with abusive behaviour, and there is little sign that UK government demands have been key in any changes; public reaction to abuse against MPs and celebrities seems to have been more effective in forcing change.
p93: “introduce a Freedom Bill. We will regulate CCTV, stop councils from spying on people, stop unfair extradition to the US, defend trial by jury, and stop children being fingerprinted at school without their parents’ permission.”
There is no Freedom Bill, despite promises at the end of 2010. CCTV remains largely unregulated. Councils have had their powers under RIPA restrained. Extradition to the US is still in place. Secret courts without juries still sit on some matters such as terrorism offences. Fingerprinting of children continues, but parents can opt out of having their children take part.
p95: “remove innocent people from the police DNA database and stop storing DNA from innocent people and children in the future, too; end plans to store your email and internet records without good cause; scrap the intrusive ContactPoint database which is intended to hold the details of every child in England.”
As above, innocent childrens’ DNA details have been stored on the database at least up to 2013. The DRIP (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers) Act was rushed through parliament in a single day last summer: it “requires internet and phone companies to store the communications data generated by phone calls, email, texts and internet use for 12 months and make it accessible to police and security services.” (No “cause” is stated.) ContactPoint has been shut down, as noted above.
The coalition document is broadly similar; there are only two specific technology points that stand out. They are:
“ending the storage of internet and email records without good reason”
As noted above, the DRIP Act mandates the storage of email and internet use by ISPs and phone companies for 12 months for all users
“mandating a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles”
Nissan and Ecotricity have partnered to create a national recharging network so that by May 2014 there were chargers in half of all motorway service stations. But this doesn’t seem to have been the result of any mandate from the government; instead, it’s the work of the companies involved