Talk About Local Hyperlocal in the UK Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:40:14 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Talk About Local 32 32 23418699 So what does the digital charter mean? Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:40:14 +0000 The government has put into the Queen’s speech a commitment to bring forward proposals for a Digital Charter which sort of will and won’t regulate internet content.  It’s set out below in the government’s own words from the background notes on the Queen’s speech. The Conservative manifesto sets some context (digital extracts from the document).   What to make of this?  Here’s a very quick take a couple of hours after the speech.

The Charter is included as a ‘non-legislative’ measure.  The language of ‘proposals’ and ‘develop’ sounds like a Green (open consultative) or White (this is what we plan to do) Paper.  The government focuses on the harmful effects of one person’s free speech on another.  Focusing on harm caused by an electronic communication probably gives the government several options under existing law, much of which is enforced ineffectively by an overworked police force.  I did some work on this with Anna Turley MP for her private members bill on malicious communications which suggested moving enforcement to OFCOM by licence but the large internet companies regulating themselves in the UK.

The Charter probably means qualitative regulation – ie people or systems making judgments about what is permitted in a given context and what isn’t.  The regulatory stance seems to give companies a chance to help draft a charter, but that it would then be enforced upon them by regulation.  As it is non-legislative that means no new regulator now – presumably the role would go to the BBFC or OFCOM or both.  The BBFC has been empowered to tackle adult content age verification and are skilled at evidence based content regulation in a national consensus.  Leaving the EU could possibly make this easier to develop but then adds to the complexity of negotiation in a swings and roundabouts manner.  On the other hand the ECHR issues will remain, assuming the UK does remain a signatory.  The government tries to cover off the international angle which will difficult, given widely differing conventions and laws on how absolute free speech is.

If this is a truly non-legislative proposal or only requires action under existing secondary legislation then the measures might not be affected by the government’s lack of an outright majority.  It is possible that the DUP, which gives the impression sometimes of being censorious could support these proposals.  Whilst the digital and free speech lobby will react strongly, I could well see the government bringing some major civil society bodies onside if they present the measures as correcting harms and primarily self regulation.

It’s going to be a fascinating couple of years.


“proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online.”

• We will develop a Digital Charter that will create a new framework which balances users’ and businesses’ freedom and security online.

• The Charter will have two core objectives: making the UK the best place to start and run a digital business and the safest place in the world to be online.

• We will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the Charter; and we will make sure it is underpinned by an effective regulatory framework.

• We are optimistic about the opportunities on offer in the digital age, but we understand these opportunities come with new challenges and threats – to our security, privacy, emotional wellbeing, mental health and the safety of our children. We will respond to these challenges, assuring security and fairness in the new digital age and strengthening the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.

• We strongly support a free and open internet. But, as in the offline world, freedoms online must be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the potential harms of the digital world. We will not shy away from tackling harmful behaviours and harmful content online – be that extremist, abusive or harmful to children. And we will make sure that technology companies do more to protect their users and improve safety online.

• Many of these challenges are of an international nature, so we will open discussions with other like-minded democracies and work with them to develop a shared approach. The Prime Minister has already started this process, securing an agreement with G7 countries to strengthen their work with tech companies on this vital agenda.

• Britain’s future prosperity will be built on our technical capability and creative flair. Through our Modern Industrial Strategy and digital strategy, we will help digital companies at every stage of their growth, including by supporting access to the finance, talent and infrastructure needed for success and by making it easier for companies and consumers to do business online.

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Hyperlocal blog can help hold power to account in tower block blaze Wed, 14 Jun 2017 07:01:33 +0000

The tragic Grenfell tower fire in West London has brought to the fore an excellent local action group blog for the area that, for years had been raising fire safety problems.  The media and twitter are all over the blog as they pore through the clear and prescient warnings of an imminent tragedy.

Here’s a few observations about

The site is an excellent example of a classic hyperlocal site, apparently running since 2012 (maybe earlier) with over 150 posts.

Post lengths can be long, many hundreds of words and aren’t afraid to be robust.  the author, who appears anonymous, has put very substantial time into this writing.  The site is on behalf of the Greenfell Action Group.

It runs on – this means it has stayed up without any problems despite being under heavy media load

In design terms it uses a traditional two column blog layout, with a very long blog roll in the right hand column

Planning and development issues are a staple for the site

The authors are this morning employing the simple yet powerful tactic of an aggregate blog post that simply links to all their previous stories about fire safety.  The media will now be using this as a basis for hard questioning of the landlord and other authorities.

I do hope that the media make full use of the material on this excellent site to hold local power to account.


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A vision for regulating the digital sphere after Brexit? Thu, 06 Apr 2017 12:33:28 +0000

As part of my work for Carnegie UK Trust on Brexit and the digital sphere I am considering the future of regulation during and post Brexit.  

Economic activity in the UK digital sphere is profoundly shaped by regulation of telecommunications, intellectual property, broadcasting, data protection and more at EU and global levels and implemented by a highly international labour force.  There are few signals from the government that they intend to make major changes to regulation post Brexit.  

Even prior to the White Paper on the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ that describes the intention to copy across EU law, the message from the Department for Culture Media and Sport has been ‘steady as she goes, prepare for change’.  The government has been working hard with its NDPBs and regulators or vice versa to suggest that, in regulatory terms things will stay much the same for the foreseeable future.  

Reducing business uncertainty is necessary but. in my view this approach is not sufficient.  Government will need describe a vision of how the UK digital sphere can actually benefit from Brexit itself if it wants to inspire confidence throughout the long years of negotiation.  This is a subset of the wider vision Baroness Lane-Fox seeks.

The ‘steady as she goes work’ on regulation has been a substantial exercise by Whitehall, the digital NDPBs and regulators.   The government has even gone so far as to promise completely new data protection legislation copying the EU in order to allow future trade in digital services.  Industry and civil society have welcomed this, even though implementing GDPR won’t be pain-free.  The Secretary of State demonstrated that DCMS can punch its weight a major new bill imposing EU law during the passage of Brexit.   

The Intellectual Property Office has been clear throughout that Brexit will not see a major change in IP rules – their current factsheet is quite blunt.  The Chief Executive of OFCOM tees-up Brexit as an opportunity to improve regulation, reducing burdens and improving consumer protection:

‘So leaving the EU presents an opportunity – indeed a necessity – to consider fundamentally whether those frameworks continue to serve the interests of all British people and businesses.’

Providing business certainty at a time of momentous change across such a broad front deserves congratulation for the Ministers and officials involved. That the prior regime wasn’t broken made things somewhat easier than in other sectors such as agriculture.

The trade bodies in the digital sphere have delivered some excellent work on Brexit.  The digital industries’ major concern is the proportion of their skilled labour supply currently met from the EU, set against an historic digital skills gap.  Prior to a wider government settlement on the EU nationals issue, there isn’t much the DCMS ministers can do to reassure. Ministerial statements from DCMS on labour supply stress that the sector is ‘a priority’ and that the government will do all it can to help the transition to the post Brexit world.  But Ministers have stopped short of specific pledges for the digital labour force, preferring to speak in general terms:

‘the Government is absolutely clear that we want a settlement that allows us to attract the brightest and best global talent. This is a strategic priority.’

DCMS SoS , 22 March 2017 Launch of TechNation2017

Others sectors have had firmer, albeit unscripted remarks from their Secretaries of State on labour supply in construction, general low skills and agriculture, but it’s far from clear that these reflect the government’s current internal prioritisation.  The government stresses that resolving EU nationals in the UK issues is a high early priority.  However, the government took a decision early in the May premiership not to change radically the visa regime with India, another potential source of skilled labour for the digital sphere.

The ‘steady as she goes’ approach is a necessary bedrock to support a tumultuous process of Brexit but does not inspire people through change and uncertainty.  As the UK exits the EU opportunities will arise and can be created to turn post EU regulation to the UK’s competitive advantage.  Government should set out how it will create new advantage for the UK through regulation.

At a high level, in the areas of mature EU regulation such as telecommunications, broadcasting etc the government could signal its broad thematic priorities.  The government could set out tactical opportunities – for instance the recent White Paper on the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ makes it clear that government will not ‘fossilise the past decisions of the CJEU forever’ and that Parliament can of course make new law to overturn CJEU precedent after exit.  So can restrictive precedent such as ‘Wireless Prague’ be set aside for a new approach for government intervention in broadband in the difficult rural fringes within WTO state subsidy rules? The UK’s approach to EU procurement rules receive much criticism in the digital sphere where government is major buyer – will the UK seek a better approach to procurement within the WTO procurement rules?  As unwieldy EU grant schemes fall away, often supporting digital research projects in the regions our workshops report, will the government design something more effective and efficient?

Put broadly – where is the vision for how the government can make the current EU digital regime work better, slicker, smarter, faster and remain compliant for trade purposes?  

In areas of immature or emerging regulation or issues where there is little EU precedent such as artificial intelligence/machine learning the UK could set out how it regulate to help companies make the UK a world leader, firmly setting Hall and Pesenti’s work in a post Brexit environment where the UK can lead our EU trading partners from outside their club.

Ironically the EU Commission would probably welcome UK innovation as a spur to their own reforms.

Digital ministers, almost all former Remain campaigners are caught in a bind in providing a leadership vision – they need to set out a vision for the future of regulation in the digital sphere post Brexit, toe the line with regard to negotiations, keep a no doubt cautious No10 onside and remain credible by not over promising.

My own experience as UK official negotiating with the EU in the digital sphere was that the UK government should be open with its own side – the UK industry, consumer groups, nations and regions, technical experts etc – in forming a national position albeit in a discreet manner.  The Secretary of State has nominated Minister of State Matt Hancock’s Digital Economy Advisory Group as the place to discuss Brexit issues.  That’s the place for industry to push government for a post Brexit vision if the government doesn’t proffer one itself.

Disclaimer – the above are my personal views and do not represent those of any of my clients, including Carnegie UK Trust.


[As always on this website, comments are moderated]

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Let sleeping hyperlocals lie? Mon, 20 Feb 2017 09:23:57 +0000 Once upon a time, I ran a hyperlocal website that looked at the politics in Stoke-on-Trent, you might of heard of Pits n Pots?

I ran the site with Tony and other contributors, it was a community effort, although it was left leaning, it was fiercely non-partizan with  people with different political views and standpoints getting involved. We were proud that everyone got a say, from the socialist left through to the far right, we actively engaged with the far right when nobody else would. We gave them a say, giving them the platform ultimately helped to tie the noose around their necks and I’m proud to say the BNP eventually disappeared from local politics in Stoke-on-Trent.

It was the early days of what is now known as Hyperlocal, there were no rules, we could do what we liked, we decided how we would work and what we would do, we helped make the rules, then we broke them.

As with all good things, they come to an end, Tony and I stopped talking every day, he left the site to pursue other projects. Pits n Pots carried on running in a fashion, but it would never be the same. Both Tony and I had different skills that we brought to the party and mixed in with the other contributors it worked up until the point where we went our separate ways.

I’m not going to go in to all the history of Pits n Pots, that has been done to death over the years. Getting to the point.

Recently there was the small matter of a resignation in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency, Tristram Hunt, resigned his seat to go and run a museum and triggered a by-election which will be held this Thursday.

This small act in Stoke-on-Trent kicked Pits n Pots back in to life, not in a publishing way but in interest, I noticed that the traffic on the site went up over night and I was contacted by different people and organisations. Some asked my opinion (I’m not sure I have a valid opinion as I no longer live in Stoke), others asked if Pits n Pots was going to restart.

It was the ‘is Pits n Pots going to restart’ question that got me thinking, why are people asking this, what is going on in Stoke-on-Trent? Stoke used to have a vibrant hyperlocal and political blogging scene, looking through the list I curate over on Local Web List, it is sad to see most of the sites listed for Stoke-on-Trent are no longer running.

Potteye appears to have been sporadic during 2016 and hasn’t published since November 16
My Tunstall seems to have stopped with no recent posts
Democracy4Stoke no longer exists

Phil BC – A very public sociologist is blogging again, he never stopped but did cut back a lot. Phil is deeply entrenched in the local Labour party and worked in the constituency office of Tristram Hunt for a time.

Most hyperlocal sites have breaks, when the contributor goes on holiday or is too busy with real world work, but have any taken an extended break and come back in the hour of need? Could a site like Pits n Pots run for a few months on the lead up to elections and maybe a short time after and then go back to sleep, coming back to life at the next election or other time of need? Or should a new site start up for the new campaign?

Maybe Facebook is the way forward for all these discussions now, people writing longer posts about their thoughts and opinions without the need for a website, or even a Facebook page or group. I had a quick trawl around Facebook, trying to beat the filter bubble and apart from the afore mentioned posts from individuals and the party pages, it all seems very quiet. Maybe I’m just not seeing it because the Facebook filter bubble is stronger than I think. If you do know of any interesting sites, pages or groups blogging about the by-election, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Don’t worry, I don’t think that Pits n Pots will be starting up again anytime soon. Tony can be found here on his new site Wols World which after a brief flurry of posts about the upcoming election, seems to have gone quiet.


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Back to the Brexit – simple exercise for discussing Brexit issues Wed, 25 Jan 2017 14:54:59 +0000

It’s tricky to find a way of discussing Brexit positively that doesn’t descend into confusion, fantasy free trade or worse, ranting, recriminations and refighting the campaign.  In Newcastle last night 30 people from the region’s digital sector played a new ‘Back to the Brexit’ game that gave the audience a vehicle to talk positively about the future.  The session at Campus North was convened by Thinking Digital and GeneratorNE (thanks to Herb, Jim and Emma in particular) and as part of my work on Brexit and the digital sphere for Carnegie UK Trust.  It follows on from sessions in Cardiff and London.

I gave a short introductory talk setting the scene (the Supreme Court decision had been that morning) – slides here. Then I set a ‘Back to the Brexit’ thought experiment for the group:

Imagine it is about five years after Brexit – say 2023.  All EU funding has stopped (a big issue in the North East that can dominate discussion).  You each have to answer three questions:

What do you hope the digital sector in the North East will look like in 2023?

What would be your advice from 2023 to an 18 year-old leaving school today in 2017?

From a 2023 perspective, what actions do you wish that the government had taken from 2017 onwards?

We set people off for 30 minutes with PostIts to write answers, a board for each question and, crucially some beers and coffee.  We asked them to chat to each other with strictly no refighting the campaign.  Then reconvened as a group around each board and discussed people’s suggestions – which were a strong mix as below.  People seemed to enjoy it, several said it was the first time they had had a chance to discuss Brexit creatively and positively, even if they hadn’t backed Brexit themselves.  Thanks to everyone who took part for a good humoured, constructive session.

If you like the model and would like me to run one of these with you drop me a line or just blatantly copy it, which I am sure people will do anyway – but it would be nice if you could acknowledge me and let me know how it goes though in the comments below.

Here are the suggestions people shared on their PostIts (any errors are mine in transcribing):

What do you hope the digital sector in the NE will look like in 2023?

Build on what we are already working towards

Sustainable innovative hub

Network of small indy experts in support of each other

Lots of companies trying to get on and share to the benefit of them and their customers

It’s not going anywhere, let’s make it better

Smart industries re0imagine manufacturing through digital tech

Supporting research and academia

Biggest success story of brexit

Become more competitive globally on digital services

Vibrant diverse range of businesses supporting a growing recognition of region as outstanding international hub

Vibrant SME sector in the NE

Bigger better visible, the busiest and most profitable post brexit sector

Self sustaining

Long term, stable local job creation

Replace ESF with HMG money

Digital user experience technologies creating empowering experiences

More companies locating here

More digital design opportunities

Cosmopolitan society with people from all over the world

A large proportion of local people employed in the sector

Philanthropic money, rather than relying on EU funding

World leader in tech and digital

Digital is pervasive neologism

Better than having remained

British owned digital companies

Lots of scalable digital companies securing global markets

Sharing and collaborative approach – less siloed

Agility and creativity from organisations (currently) dependent upon European funding

Innovative, creative, world-leading, competitive, collaborative

Biggest industrial contribution to the NE economy

Coherent, tight-knit collaborative cluster

Retain our digital talent, trained locally

Leveraging local talents and resources

Not just sustainable but profit making and possibly research-rich and led

Partnerships between government/universities and tech organisations

Ambitious and confident

Don’t think of ‘digital scene’ – everything is digital and ‘scenes’ are transitory

Be brilliant and bore people with greatness !

Bigger, more sustainable

Strong, integrated and connected sector, clustered in a geographical location


Advice from 2023 to an 18yo leaving school today in 2017

Do a degree apprenticeship

Learn coding, leanr how to work w techies

Learn and keep learning – business skills, languages, digital specialisms

Collaborate and share ideas

Get industrial placement experience

Keep study options broad – don’t specialise too soon, be creative

Find your niche, go global

Learn to code and feed your passions

Get plenty of work experience in different types of organisation

Learn foreign language because mainland Europe has stopped speaking English

Follow STEM disciplines, acquire some digital skills

Whatever your subject do a law conversaion course – lawyers and accountants will always have work

Learn leadership skills early on

Learn about bots and AI

Crossover – IT and something else

Travel (x3)

Develop your identity as a global and local citizen

Learn to code – even if you don’t do it as a job (x2)

Do an apprenticeship (x2)

Take languages and cultures seriously – have at least one other language (x4)

Have/develop/learn hard and soft tech skills

Be interested in current affairs

Be curious

Develop problem solving/critical thinking skills

Work hard

Consider international university/tech courses outside UK

Learn and play. Get good at what you do.

Develop your soft skills

Do practical vocational skills

Move to San Francisco

Expand your networks

You get what you give, keep on persevering

Be excellent at solving problems

Become the best you can in what you love. If you are good at what you do you will have work.


Actions for the government from 2017, reflecting a 2023 post Brexit perspective:

Replace ERDF money with UK regeneration fund

Invest in digital infrastructure

Listen to the sector – really listen and take action based on key messages

More control over levers of change at a regional level: regulation, tax incentives, investment, borrowing

Realise that digital permeates all industry now – tech is a thread that keeps business moving

Theresa May – live a day in our lives

Understand success stories

Listen to experts and those in the industry

Significantly increase the number of tech visas

Investment in digital skills/capabilities/training/r&d

Dictate the terms of the UK leaving the EU. Take the approach that the UK will be stronger outside EU

Reform school curriculum to completely embed digital – make UK a world leader in this

Invest real money into tech sector and skills in the North East as well as the North West

Make funds accessible direct rather than through quango bodies

Realise everything will be digital

Use Brexit as opportunity to provide significant investment in digital and physical infrastructure to support business

Understand and appreciate differences in the regions

Reduce red tape

Invest in education

Visit the North East and talk to businesses and sector bodies NOT the LEP or academics

Put it all on black – be brave

Make sure the education system allows lads to experiment with their skills and expectations

Jurgen Maier should be based in 10 Downing Street

Devolve power from central government

Ensure access to Digital Single Market

Encourage young entrepreneurs and student exchanges

Invest in infrastructure – give people a reason to live here (in North East)

Invest in education

Break up BT

Develop graphene based IP

Embrace the value of IP

Allow for the free movement of the right talent into and out of the region

Get involved in European non-EU organisations such as BEREC

Fund FE and HE establishments by replacing EU funding to ensure that tech skills remain in the UK

Measure and recognise the scale of the digital sector to the economy

Create spaces for companies to start at no/low cost.

Agree a free trade and open borders deal with Donald J Trump

Ring fence ERDF funding for business support

Tell the truth, answer questions

Fireside chats with tech firms – to bring a rounded understanding



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Digital opportunities presented by Brexit – Cardiff discussion Tue, 13 Dec 2016 14:47:43 +0000 brexit-signs

A small group met last week at TramshedTech in Cardiff to discuss opportunities that Brexit might offer for the digital sphere in Wales.  This meeting was part of my early work for the Carnegie UK Trust, seeking positives from Brexit and followed on from a similar meeting in London.  I set out some ground rules for the discussion – assumption that Brexit was going to happen, seeking positive opportunities, no partisan-ship, no reheating the campaign.  The participants threw themselves into the discussion in good faith and some fascinating ideas emerged.  I’m organising similar events the North East, Birmingham and Edinburgh.  If anyone would like me to do another somewhere else, please get in touch.

Summary notes are below, any errors are mine I have editorialised and re-ordered points made for sense and coherence, drawing together themes across a couple of hours discussion.    Views reported here are not Carnegie UK Trust’s nor, necessarily my own nor shared by all participants.


  • More than an opportunity, but a necessity in Brexit to set a new modern vision for Wales – moving on from coal, steel, sheep to digital creativity and delivery and a great place to live and work.
  • Wales has strong potential in a more internationalist digital world – innate bi-linguality provides simple competitive advantage in developing apps and services for many countries.
  • Good companies will just have to get on with post Brexit environment.
  • Brexit could clear out a lot of dead wood and stimulate regrowth.


What sort of digital economy does Wales want, what IS the digital economy?  Brexit opportunity to move on from steel, coal, sheep etc and recast Wales’ economic image as a digital maker of things. Can it be like similarly-sized Estonia – test bed, giant lab to develop technologies that can provide benefit internationally.  Requires political leadership and vision as well as techs doing the work.

Prevalent bilingualism is an economic USP for Wales in UK. Enable easy thinking in multiple languages – ideal for more outward facing global word in other language groups.  Bi-linguality is hard to quantify, but is a clear differentiator.

Hope future is more about open intellectual property, particularly where public sector has had a hand in creating that IP.  More open licensing for more people to exploit IP as a public good.

Wales has substantial quantity of public service media created with public money – how can this be opened up for exploitation culturally, economically etc – not necessarily full access, but clips etc?  Current baseline is: no access to anything in public service content archives in Wales (and UK). See Tony Ageh Royal Holloway lecture.

In 5 years – likelihood still small ‘c’ conservative government in Wales and London making state smaller, shrinking it. Pressure will still be on saving money – using tech as a positive to deliver that saving in public service budgets by using money more effectively.

As government expenditure and structure shrinks, Wales has to become more attractive to business to maintain prosperity.

Vital to educate workforce with digital skills. Donaldson review of curriculum in Wales – includes digital literacy from 2018.

Wales has high quality of life for creatives – digital startups even appearing in still deprived post industrial areas.

What can Wales learn from digital incubator/accelerator models – e.g. Idiap Institute innovation work in Lausanne (outside EU) with close relationship with local canton.

Are there lessons from the Basque country  – where government is investing in r&d and maintained its manufacturing base, despite it being unprofitable for years.  Similarly Catalonia, where ‘being different’ is part of their USP and has helped with investment etc.

There is no alternative – Wales has to be different in five years, lagging economically anyway

Brexit will bring more niche opportunities – things developing quickly. Many small businesses need some help forging intl. links in new environment – need something specific to support them – trade missions etc

Existing trade missions are a bit too sectoral – TV film etc well understood, but govt. doesn’t get their head around the digital space.

Overall, if you are doing something world-beating in digital then Brexit doesn’t matter. But most businesses (by definition) won’t be. What do they do? Digital industries are strongly global, not just EU. As the world gets even smaller those with a nimble, outward looking mindset will do best.

Product design has to be international anyway – in digital world can’t design stuff just for the EU.  It’s almost a given that digital products have to be exportable and easily translatable.  But regulatory issues can affect consumption – eg some large companies are switching from web services storing lots of personal data outside the EU, to in-EU storage for more certain data compliance.  However, even if data is required to be stored in the EU post Brexit, then you just pay a bit more to have it in France, say.

Whilst Wales has data centres, they can’t compete with AWS etc. But, for outward facing businesses, if they have to pay a little more for web service products due to tariff or currency barriers it might not make that much difference.  Many issues don’t hit until scale – work globally – take on minor costs incurred to be a global player.

Could Wales/the UK become a sort of good data haven – super secure, super well regulated.

Being forced into thinking differently by disruptive change is a good thing.

What are the relevant skills to imbue into young people at school now who will leave school the year the UK Brexits – what digital skills (and others) will they need for that new environment?

Impact on Higher Education  – r&d has been collaborative across the EU.  Brexit will make this harder.  What will replace Horizon 2020?  Is it possible to have a new post Brexit research programme more attuned to UK priorities than EU ones?

Access to capital – it’s possible that capital could be tough to find for a while around the time of Brexit,  would make market less egalitarian (it’s strikingly egalitarian now).  For people building the best things, money will still find them the second tier will be less likely to access capital.

Some EU funding has been too easily accessible to people who can fill in bid responses in right way and use appropriate black magic. When that dries up, will see impact on middle range companies used to playing this system.

Sometimes you need a fire in the forest to clear out the undergrowth, weaker plants etc – Brexit could do that.

National vision – Trump sold something people wanted – problems with politics in the UK – where is there a more social vision about what life would be like after Brexit (not just economy)?

Lack of media plurality an issue – need many voices to reflect the turbulence back and help understand it – declining media in Wales under-serves this.

Five year vision?

In five years, Wales has more faith in itself,  standing up as a proud digital nation. Wales that is confident to take on the world – look internationally, not across the bridge. A global outlook, while being conscious of who we are.  Politicians should deliver the positive side of nationalism.  Global opportunities are there.

Brexit was vote for change – want to be able to make own decisions in Wales for outcomes that are more relevant to us and be responsible for it, not blaming others when it goes wrong.

Ask a bigger question than five years – Going much further – in 2050 – what will we look back on in shame about what we are doing today? Waste, pollution, eating meat?

If the rules have been slowing us down, now is the opportunity to try more innovation.  Innovation in fact is more than an opportunity it is a necessity for the future of Wales.  But not just tech innovation, social innovation too. We’ll die without innovation.

Don’t see Brexit having much impact. Impact on the short term could be beneficial if we frame Wales in the right place – competing internationally, from Wales.

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Response to draft CCTV strategy Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:30:50 +0000 Today I responded to the consultation on a ‘Draft national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales’ published by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.  My response is below:


>I have pursued a number of issues on ANPR over the past two years, formerly as member of the Crime and Justice Sector Transparency Panel.

I welcome the strategy, though it needs to be tougher in places
CCTV requires a more clear regulatory underpinning with tougher penalties for breach of codes of practice. The existing arrangement is a legislative dogs breakfast.
CCTV is rarely fully overt and the balance of rights and responsibilities needs to move more firmly to put more onus on the operator of cameras.
In contract law the 1970 ‘Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking’ case was (amongst other things) a landmark for requiring clear notices to prevent ill-informed entering into arrangements (eg signs on car parks with the T&C before you enter the car park, not after and certainly not printed on the ticket).  Such clarity is needed in CCTV, especially at petrol stations where you cannot read the ANPR surveillance notice until after you have already been surveilled on entrance.
There need to be a formal ethical component in CCTV regulation that stays in touch with shifting social mores.  This could be in the form of an ethics panel advising the SCC.
Similarly there needs to be a technology advisory panel to support the SCC.
Domestic CCTV, such as ‘always on’ baby monitors and home security cameras constantly uploading to cloud services require special study by both ethics and technology specialists.  For instance – you have guests to stay and capture images of them naked.  Or workmen in your house in a professional capacity who are bing monitored without their knowledge.  What rights do these parties have?  Where is the data stored, when is it deleted, can it be intercepted or viewed by third parties?
Tony Porter is familiar with my arguments on police ANPR, which i regard as a vital national system that is not being operated well.
ANPR as it currently operates is bordering on illegal.  The police risk all ANPR evidence being contaminated in just one court case. See in particular this article by Lorna Woods, Professor of Internet Law at the University of Essex, where the case is made in detail
ANPR requires a proper statutory footing that provides for proper regulation – Home Office should bring forwards legislation
Independent oversight is vital – including full lay representation on a well-resouced governing body commensurate to the scale of the system with a Chair independent of the police and home office – eg the SCC
The police need to reduce the data retention period down to one year to be in line with other covert surveillance systems. This includes deleting securely the current over-retentions such as in the Met Police
It isn’t clear that the new national control centre system is being procured according to best modern practice nor with open-ness nor transparency in mind, which become all the more important when one considers the up lift in capability it will provide.
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In memoriam Steph Clarke Fri, 25 Nov 2016 19:30:57 +0000 We were horrified to hear today of the sudden death of Steph Clarke from a brain haemorrage.  Steph was one half of WV11 the outstanding local website for Wednesfield that she ran with her husband James. WV11 is more than just a website it is the emblem of the fabulous community action Steph and James would throw themselves into.

In this video from BigLunch Steph in her ever effervescent way says ‘We are normally the people on our community who make things happen’.

On WV11 Steph said

‘I honestly believe Wednesfield has more to offer than the residents often give it credit for and wanted to do something to redress the balance of negativity around where we live.’

Steph was an absolute hyperlocal hero, working with Nick Booth at Podnosh to empower communities.  We gave her one of our un-awards in 2012.  The hyperlocal community in the UK will miss her dearly.

We also had the pleasure of sharing an office with Steph and Nick in Fazeley Studios.

Our heart goes out to James and her son Jordan and her colleague Nick.

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National ANPR conference 2016 – speech on challenge and oversight Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:31:18 +0000 anpr-certI was invited to address the National ANPR Conference in York on 22 November about my work to modernise accountability and scrutiny of the vital ANPR system.  As ever when addressing a police conference I was struck by the professionalism, skill and commitment of the people there and the excellent work they do in each force with ANPR to protect the public.  However I came away with the impression that grass roots excellence in practice wasn’t matched by sight of the big picture, particularly  the tricky place ANPR is now in after a decade of weak external oversight and governance as a national system.  The purpose of my talk was to get that across and set out a basic vision for a future ANPR more legally and socially secure.


I got a fair hearing, no one threw any rotten fruit and once again I thank DCC Paul Kennedy for engaging me in this process.  The Information Commissioner’s Office is due to speak too, if their slides appear online I’ll link to them.

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Police planning to delete billions of personal journey records Mon, 21 Nov 2016 18:21:25 +0000 By John Bradley - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, meeting of the embryonic Automatic Number Plate Recognition privacy advisory group on 10 November was told that the Metropolitan Police are planning to delete of some 4 billion items of vehicle movement data, most held years beyond their retention date and no longer usable for crime fighting.   The existence of this Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data cache dating from 2012 in the National CT ANPR System known as the ‘Olympic Feed‘ was first revealed to the general public in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request made in 2015 through the What Do They Know website.

I am grateful to DCC Paul Kennedy, National Lead for ANPR for his leadership responding to my challenges since that time and to his team for implementation, particularly officers in the Met Police.  The police have engaged with me and other civil society actors in a transparent manner.  I have recorded progress on this website. Lorna Woods, University of Essex Professor of Internet Law in a recent article illustrated the many legal challenges facing ANPR, operating as it does without specific legislation.  Technical problems with the (very securely held) historic cache of data at the Met have apparently rendered it unusable.  

4 billion items, each recording a person on their journey is likely to be one of the world’s largest, possibly the largest public sector data deletions.

I strongly support the need for ANPR to fight crime, but the power of the largely covert system is such that it needs to be managed and overseen in a transparent and independent manner.  The steps DCC Kennedy is taking to set up an Advisory Board for ANPR are welcome as is the support of Tony Porter the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.   But much more needs to be done to put ANPR on a safe and secure statutory footing with its own legislation leading to governance with an independent and ethical component proportionate to the substantial scale of surveillance.  It seems that the National ANPR leadership structures want this to happen too and are moving in the right direction.

This planned deletion shows that for all its flaws, aspects of the Data Protection Act and interplay with human rights law in the UK work.  But this large repository of data should not have been allowed to accumulate in the first place – illustrating the gaps where the DPA interacts with security and surveillance that Professor Woods described.  The powers and to some extent the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office as regulator and at the same time advisor is also tested as they have long been aware of the over retention of billions of records.

The Home Office and Crime and Justice Sector in general need an over-arching review of their work with the data they collect in the course of their work, how they access, retain and use it.  The Investigatory Powers Bill, whether one agrees with it or not, was a step in this direction.  But ANPR was outside the IP Bill scope as is vast majority of the Criminal Justice System data work.  Much of the CJS is closed to FOI, limiting the scope for civil society to scrutinise and hold it to account.  I am concerned that if a system as large as ANPR fell into keeping billions of records of citizens movements beyond their retention date, then other criminal justice system data systems will have made similar decisions that the public they are intended to serve do not know about.


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