Election 2011: Privacy, intellectual property & the internet

With so much of the electoral attention focussed on crisis management, it is easy to ignore other aspects of each party’s manifestos (or the absence of same in the case of many independents).

It is worth checking these manifestos for references to any issues you have a particular interest in: you might be surprised at what you find. Luckily, blogs like Maman Poulet and Human Rights in Ireland are keeping an eye on the aspects of the party manifestos not concerned solely with bond-burning.

Crowd checking the 1931 general election results, Willis Street, Wellington, 1931
Election night results, pre-Twitter

Our courts and citizens are having to deal with an increasing number of issues under our privacy, data protection and intellectual property laws, so I had a look at the parties’ positions in these areas. If I have missed anything, please let me know in the comments, along with suggestions as to what the manifestos should contain.

Fine Gael

  • FG would “review and update Intellectual Property legislation currently in place to benefit innovation.” This commitment is vague and suggests that the party is aware of issues but hasn’t thought about any solutions yet.
  • FG would “clarify the laws relating to on-line copyright infringement and the enforcement of rights relating to digital communications”. This probably refers to the consequences of the IRMA litigation (contrast with the Green Party manifesto, below). Again, the party does not appear to be ready to offer solutions.
  • What is meant by “the enforcement of rights relating to digital communications”? Does it refer to data retention or freedom of speech? The sentence is somewhat worrying in the absence of elaboration.
  • FG will revamp the Patents Office website. This is a bizarrely specific proposal, by contrast with the other high-level proposals.
  • The consultancy industry will be delighted to learn of plans for “an E-day on January 1st, 2016 by which all government services to business will be on-line only.”
  • FG would “develop Ireland as a ‘Digital Island’ and first-mover when it comes to information technology.” One might be forgiven for thinking that is an aspiration that is somewhat unrealistic in 2011.
  • FG would introduce a national DNA database. The process of doing so had already been started by the outgoing administration.
  • The party proposes a Circuit Commercial Court along the lines of the existing Commercial Court but which deals with smaller-value commercial disputes (the Circuit Court can generally hear cases for claims worth up to €38,092.14)

Labour

  • Labour’s Innovation Strategy Agency would, among other things, “make Ireland a world leader in the management of [IP]”.
  • Labour “supports the development of an International Content Services Centre in Ireland, and its potential to make Ireland a European hub for the dissemination of Intellectual Property.” This was, in fact, a commitment of the renewed Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in October 2009. It is also firmly in Your Country, Your Call territory: one of the winning YCYC proposals was to establish an ICSC. The competition winners were announced in September 2010, almost one year after the establishment of an ICSC became Government policy.
  • Labour propose to introduce civil orders against serious offenders following conviction, for example, restrictions on the use of the internet by those convicted of child sex offences.
  • Labour wants to make Ireland a headquarters location for data centres and cloud computing. The party would establish an expert group to review security and privacy issues arising from these areas. A data protection review group established by the Minister for Justice 2008 published a report in 2010. The EU is also currently reviewing the Data Protection Directive (Irish law implements the Directive) and cloud computing is one issue under review in that context.

Fianna Fáil

I will not be the first to suggest that the FF manifesto consists primarily of a defence of the outgoing Government’s policies and lists of achievements since 1997. It is not surprising, therefore, that party does not appear to offer much in the areas of privacy, IP and the internet.

No direct reference is made to copyright, data protection, privacy or the internet (not one instance of the word internet in the whole manifesto, though commitments are made about broadband). One, incidental, reference is made to IP in the context of publicly-funded research. While FG want to clarify the law on exploiting IP developed by third level institutions, FF want the outcomes of publicly-funded research to be made freely available “save where there are specific commercial intellectual-property issues.”

  • FF commits to supporting research and development and to continue use of the innovation voucher system to help small businesses acquire R&D.
  • Like the Labour party, the FF manifesto commits to fostering cloud computing services. It also commits to establishing the International Content Services Centre (as already mentioned, this has been Government policy since 2009).

Green Party

  • The Greens would “[p]revent private organisations from intruding into a citizen’s privacy”. The Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 already do this in general terms, but I assume that the Greens are proposing either reform of those Acts or the implementation of some form of specific privacy law, as was proposed but not implemented by the outgoing administration.
  • The Greens would prevent organisations from “summarily punishing citizens for alleged illegal activities and from interfering with citizens’ legitimate and legal uses of content.” Again, a little interpretation is required, but I assume this suggests that the Greens would deal with the consequences of the IRMA litigation in a manner which favours citizens over companies. As Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan said that he was seeking the advice of the Attorney General in this area but his holding statement to the Dáil last year did not indicate any thinking along the lines of what is now contained in the manifesto.
  • The party would “[u]pdate the role of the Data Commissioner to ensure evolving technologies are in check with the rights of Irish citizens.” This might refer to increased enforcement powers, which would be welcome.
  • The party would completely oppose the introduction of software patents.

Sinn Féin

The SF manifesto makes no direct reference to copyright, intellectual property, data protection, privacy or the internet. However, the party would “focus on creating new jobs across the agri-food, tourism and IT/pharma sectors, and Research and Development as well as with initiatives that will ensure Ireland becomes a world leader in green energy.”


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7 thoughts on “Election 2011: Privacy, intellectual property & the internet

  1. It worries me a lot that the parties are so vague on intellectual
    property rights. There are a plethora of groups concerned in the
    area!

    If the parties are incapable of grasping how a generation grew up
    familiar with and using internet , how on earth will they legislate
    in the areas of dissemination, freedom of speech, electronic archive
    and individual rights ?

    Recently JP Barlow of EFF alluded to his written manifesto of
    15 years ago, a whole generation have grown up with FLOSS/GNU/
    Drupal/Open-source systems in terms of sharing information ! In
    terms of legislating , I do not think it is good enough to use
    privately owned companies to advise when in fact they are vested
    interests.

    imo groups that function at a global-level such as PEN/Index on
    Censorship, EFF and practically all news-media are more aware of
    the intellectual property-rights aspects of internet than what
    you have shown us regarding Irish political Party manifestos.

    See here for what happens when issues of free-speech are
    obfuscated by vested interests > http://www.libelreform.org/

    The Labour Party Manifesto actually sounds most realistic.

  2. also orgs such as Poetry foundation, Libelreform and PEN
    have actually developed laws on Intellectual property rights,
    fair-use and copyright.

    The fact that people who claim leadership only pay to listen
    and are unaware of best-practice would point to deep conservatism,
    grounded in vested-interest and indeed to pretend leaders being
    ‘anti-innovation’.

    The fact that they seek election of such ignoble platforms
    beggars belief1

  3. In relation to data protection, FG’s manifesto promises to “abolish 145 state bodies and companies” while their “Reinventing Government” document sets out the list of agencies and includes the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner:

    “Amalgamate ombudsmen/regulators into the Office of the Ombudsman (Office of Ombudsman/Information Commissioner, the Children’s Ombudsman, Office of Data Protection Commissioner, and Office of the Commission for Public Service Appointments)”

    The reference on page 53 of the manifesto to DPA shielding state bodies from the Public Accounts Committee suggests they might consider a broader review of data protection. Any real attempt to exploit Ireland’s potential for datacentre hosting, cloud services etc would require reform, hopefully bringing us closer to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.

  4. The idea of a super-regulator was doing the rounds a few years ago but I really don’t see the logic in one regulator filling the role of DPC and Ombudsman for Children, for example. An Information Commissioner-style amalgamation of DPC and OIC makes more sense.

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