The British are Campaigning for a Digital Bill of Rights

Written by Scott Craig

This past week saw the launch of a cross-party campaign with the ambitious aim of crowdsourcing a Digital Bill of Rights for the UK. The ‘Peoples Charter of Digital Liberties’, as the bill is to be known, is intended to be completed in time for the next session of Parliament. It is likely to propose new rights, extensions of existing rights, and new ways of protecting existing rights online.

The campaign, led by think tank cybersalon and backed by a range of civil liberties groups, is the most significant attempt to answer Tim Berners Lee’s call for a ‘Magna Carta of the internet’, a document that includes ‘positive laws that protect and expand the rights of users to an open, free and universal web’. The idea of the Charter has already garnered support from senior figures such as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who described such a Charter as ‘the foundation of an advanced digital economy’.

We hope …. that our rights continue to be upheld even as we live more of our lives online.

Significantly, the publication of the Charter will coincide with the government’s intended repeal of the Human Rights Act (HRA), which is to be replaced with a new ‘British Bill of Rights’. The HRA offers redress through UK courts for violations of rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. It has become a bone of contention among Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) who see the act, and judgments emanating from Strasbourg, as increasingly in conflict with the UK’s national security.

Views are split over whether the repeal of the HRA is merely a cosmetic exercise designed to placate a vocal minority of conservatives MPs, or whether it is intended to make certain convention rights unenforceable in UK courts. In either case, a new ‘British Bill of Rights’ is expected to be laid before the next session of Parliament. The ‘People’s Charter’ will therefore be uniquely placed to help make sure the government’s new bill advances, rather than restricts, human rights.

From Magna Carta to the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights and the Chartists, the British people have always been ahead of their governments in understanding and pressing for recognition of their rights. We hope that this latest step in the long journey to liberty will ensure that our rights continue to be upheld even as we live more of our lives online. We welcome the effort and look forward to seeing the results.

You can find out more and contribute your ideas here.

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