Ministers are still mulling how they can collect communications data, and while quite rightly the debate about the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ centres on the threat to individual privacy, opponents also forget the threat such legislation would post for the UK’s economic recovery.
With good reason this Government has prided itself on being the most technologically friendly ever. Be it via the development of Tech City, the Future Fifty, the Enterprise Investment Scheme, reforming intellectual property or even the Entrepreneur Visa – the Government is ensuring that the UK becomes a place where internet-based start ups and established technology companies want to come and do business.
However, there is a risk that all of this good work would unwittingly be undone if we continue to proceed down a route full of unexpected costs and consequences. As successive governments have clamoured to get their hands on citizens’ communications data – it appears little considerations has been given as to how this will adversely affect the blossoming technology and electronic communications sector in the UK which is already worth nearly £55 billion and employs over 460,000 people.
The Comms Data plan — until it was vetoed by Nick Clegg — would have insisted that companies of a certain size collect and store all their customers’ data for a number of years — just in case the police or security services want to access it. This would be at their own expense.
By default the Government will almost certainly prescribe how these large volumes of data are to be collected and stored; which is effectively dictating the architecture which drives so many online companies.
Given the risks of starting up a business, who could blame tech entrepreneurs for re-thinking their decision to base themselves in the UK if these proposals do make it into law, as ministers still hope?
Which free-spirited entrepreneur will want government telling them how to fundamentally structure a key element of their business? Before entering Parliament I started and ran an exhibition and events design company – the parallel would be like the Government dictating to me which tools I could use to design with. Had that been the case, I would have set the company up elsewhere.
The Government has taken significant steps to build the UK’s international reputation for supporting the technology sector; yet risks undermining that by following a set of policies which won’t achieve their intended aims, will cost a significant sum of money, and will put off potential investors and entrepreneurs.
Any Government’s proposals have unforeseen unintended consequences. With the Comms Data proposals, the consequences are all too clear: they will hurt our economic recovery, as well as threaten our privacy.
Nick de Bois is Conservative MP for Enfield North