Loz Kaye interview
Loz Kaye speaks to us about Wikileaks, the Digital Economy Act, privacy and the future
Image: CC-AT Flickr: Tim Dobson
For those that don't know, what is the Pirate Party UK and how did it come about?
Pirate Party UK is a political party founded to protect digital rights, to press for intellectual property reform, stand up for privacy of the individual and to defend freedom of speech. It is our aim to set digital policy right at the heart of of British politics where it belongs. We want to see an end to laws that hound individuals, we want to see a country where government is truly open and accountable, and where technology is embraced rather than feared.
We were inspired by the success of the Swedish Pirate Party, where the movement for a web-user friendly political force began. Their winning of representation in the European parliament was truly a significant shift in politics. Already there are over 40 Pirate Parties worldwide, from Canada to Morocco, from Serbia to New Zealand.
In 2009 it became evident that there were major political threats to civil liberties and internet freedom that no-one in the mainstream were willing to oppose in a concerted way, most obviously the Digital Economy Act. It was clear then that there was a burning need for a British Pirate Party and I remain convinced that we are needed more than ever.
On net neutrality, why shouldn't ISPs have the right to offer different packages to consumers? If I don't access sites which use a lot of bandwidth, why should I have to pay for it?
As Tim Berners-Lee always points out net neutrality is at the heart of what the net is. It is about the free flow of information, that benefits us socially, culturally and economically. We would not put up with such proposals from other service providers. Imagine an electricity-lite for the poor that resulted in blackouts for half the day because they could not pay enough to guarantee the supply. Or a telephone service where you get a crackly, almost inaudible line to Joe's pizza, but an excellent connection to Dominos.
I am very concerned that any move to erode net neutrality could also undermine democracy. A scenario where Sky fully controls BSkyB, and delivers a Fox style news, while restricting access to the BBC is not at all far fetched. At the end of the day this is actually an infrastructure question rather than a consumer choice question. This would not even be considered a serious issue if we had the fibre we deserve, rather than indifferent copper we have.
I have a huge sympathy for ISPs. It seems that the government is expecting them to be copyright enforcers, moral guardians, catalysts for economic growth, or whatever latest kneejerk reaction they are having. We must let them get back to the core of their business, delivering packets without needless obstruction.
How optimistic are you that parliament will learn its lesson from the Digital Economy Act?
The judicial review has shown the deep problems of the Digital Economy Act. The very wording has been shown to be flawed. At the time it was rushed through in the dying days of the most discredited parliament in living memory, we in Pirate Party UK warned that it was a mistake. It gives us no pleasure to say we told you so. But, we told you so. Whatever the result of the judicial review, it is now clear that the Digital Economy Act is now a lame duck piece of legislation.
The lessons to be learnt should be- firstly this is not the way to help artists make a living, and secondly it makes no sense to target individuals through an IP address. Aggressive copyright enforcement is simply not the main way that most artists make their living. Also, no credible evidence has been given to demonstrate any link between taking down 'pirate' sites and a boost in artists' income.
I am not optimistic that parliament will learn much in the short term. It is worth remembering that MPs are generalists and subject to a party whip. They are also bombarded daily with petitions and pleas. Even I, despite a currently minor political role, get targeted with an extraordinary range of requests from solving local parking problems to saving the political crisis in Belgium. The best advice I can give your readers is to write to politicians directly rather than petitioning, and do a follow up call or meet.
What do you make of the national and international response to Wikileaks?
Wikileaks has overwhelmingly been a force in the public interest. It has exposed the rotten core of so many of our representatives, be they politicians, generals or ambassadors. It has shown how the British parliament was mislead over cluster bombs. It has laid bare unpalatable truths about the Iraq war, including showing 1000s of unreported civilian deaths. It has shown how successive Secretaries of State have presided over spying on UN officials.
Perhaps most striking of all it has shown how the internet can be a tool to empower citizens. By placing raw information out there, we all have the opportunity to become journalists and active citizens. It is worth pointing out that we are the only party that has been consistent and outspoken in our support for Wikileaks. In fact we were probably the only party that knew it even existed a year ago.
I am profoundly shocked at some of the international reaction. Most striking are the various calls from mainstream American politicians for the assassination of Assange, Sarah Palin wants him 'hunted down', even Joe Biden likened him to a "hi-tech terrorist". Equally, I am amazed by the silence and impotence of our national politicians. Everyone from the Conservatives to the Greens have been afraid to stand up for the right to blow the whistle, leaving me to be the only leader to go on the BBC and talk about this subject.
It has been depressing to see how much effort it has taken to get anyone to pay attention to the case of joint US/UK citizen Bradley Manning. He has been under military arrest for over 300 days now, in conditions which can only be compared to Guantanamo bay, accused of passing documents to Wikileaks. One of the chilling developments has been the capital charges of 'aiding the enemy' leveled at Bradley Manning.
If, and I emphasize if, Bradley Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy, then surely so is Wikileaks. And by extension so are the Guardian and the New York Times. So are Pirate Party Switzerland for hosting the wikileaks.ch mirror, and PP Sweden for allowing Wikileaks server space. So are all of us who support a more open democracy.
How concerned are you by the possibility of new web blocking powers?
The coalition's threat to bring in web blocking has the potential to be an even worse abuse of civil liberties than Labour's Digital Economy Act. The proposal for a self-regulatory approach to online copyright enforcement is just warm words covering extra-judicial censorship. Not only is it a full on attack on freedom of information, but it is of course ineffective. Or perhaps Jeremy Hunt is unaware that the internet is indeed a net, and there can be no Great British Firewall.
The use of the Internet Watch Foundation, set up as it is to deal with child abuse images, as a template is profoundly worrying. It ought to be obvious that measures to do with the abuse of young people and anything to do with copyright are wholly different areas. The opportunistic attempt to exploit child protection is entirely immoral in my view.
It seems that the government are conceding that the Digital Economy Act will not come in to force any time soon, if ever. So they are under new pressure from the content providing lobby to adopt new measures. But we should not be made to pay for this shoddy law-giving, or its anti-democratic pushing through the fag end of the last parliament.
It is worth pointing out that there is nothing concrete on the table right now, which makes opposition difficult. But we must not hand web-blocking powers to government or to an unelected quango. Ed Vaizey's comments already demonstrate that once a precedent like the IWF is set, that the powers that be start to use them in other areas, leading to a slippery slope towards the undoing of the kind of internet that we have come to prize.
Are your proposed patent reform & copyright reform plans just pipe-dreams, given the influence & resources of those who would oppose such reforms?
There have been points in our history where ideas such as votes for women or civil partnerships have seemed like pipe-dreams. What has mattered is that people have stood up for what is just.
While our patent and copyright reform plans are radical, I do not think that they are unachievable. We want to bring in a right to non-commercial file-sharing. We want to stop the paying of the dead, and curtail copyright to 10 years from the creation of a work. We want to promote open source software by giving it 10 years of protection as opposed to 5 years for closed source.
Even IP lawyers both privately and publicly have expressed support for our proposals. Millions of people every day demonstrate that current intellectual property law is not fit for purpose by burning CDs, format shifting, file sharing, making mashups. Some people even make mix-tapes still, yet strangely enough music has not died.
It is well known that the BPI, RIAA, IFPI and the rest of the alphabet soup of the copyright industry use a huge amount of effort and money defending the outmoded business models that serve them. If only they had used a fraction of those resources lobbying government to reconsider the swingeing arts funding cuts which constitute a real threat to the incomes of creatives.
If only the money spent on the 5 barristers for the defence at the Digital Economy Act judicial review had been used to nurture young composers and bands.
What is remarkable is that despite all the cash they throw around, the lobbyists have been surprisingly ineffectual in achieving their goals. People continue to act like "pirates", despite the dire warnings so appositely satirised in the IT crowd. In fact these groups are beginning to overreach themselves, and their actions are being called in to question.
We can see this for example in the dropping of the case against FileSoup. The reason for this was that the Federation Against Copyright Theft had in essence acted as victims, police and prosecutors in the case. The CPS dropped the action after it was revealed that no proper evidence of copyright infringement could be shown. This was not before considerable cost to the tax-payer I might add.
Cases like this indicate what Rick Falkvinge, Pirate Party Sweden founder, has called "a change in the wind"- the first signs that a major shift of perception is starting to happen.
Does the draft Defamation Bill go far enough?
There is plenty about our legal system that leaves much to be desired, from super injunctions and hyper injunctions, to the whole sorry process that brought us the "twitter joke trial". The prospect of libel action has begun to threaten journalism and scientific research. We can not have a situation where scientists are nervous to present their findings or to challenge obvious quackery. This bill is essentially the test of the axis of the sceptical which includes so many of our members, regardless of religion or lack thereof.
Any bill with a foreword that begins "The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our constitution", is a good start, despite the fact that we do not have a properly articulated constitution. Clearly the move to stop libel tourism is a good thing, as it has been a source of injustice and frankly an embarrassment to our country. On a technical level the simplification of honest opinion and truth as defences is a welcome move, as is restricting cases to those involving substantial harm.
Our major reservation is that it does not restrict the huge money in defamation lawsuits. This has been the driving force behind so much libel action, and the scandal that litigation around reputation has been more profitable than real injuries.
With companies such as Google & Facebook being such a huge part of many people's online experience, but at the same time amongst the worst when it comes to abusing privacy, do enough people care about their privacy to change it?
As things stand most ordinary people do not perceive a threat. It's hard enough for 'mobile phone alarm Britain' to just deal with every day - work, kids, cleaning, bills, let alone trying to figure out the implications of whatever Zuckerberg does today on their private lives. I think it's fair to say that the majority want the internet and social media as a background service that just functions- like electricity or mobile phones. Nevertheless, when you explain to most peole that their personal data is at risk of being exploited, they are horrified.
Facebook protest at every turn that they are concerned, Micheal Richter, Facebook's chief privacy counsel is quoted as saying "Facebook care about privacy". Yet constantly the default seems to be for exploitation rather than protection. For example there was a recent decision to allow third party developers access to telephone numbers. While sites are advertising privacy policies and statements, the plain truth is precious few people read them, and are willing to sign away their rights precisely because of the huge part large companies play in most people's online experiences.
We want to bring in rights to private and confidential communication, and the right to encrypt data. As a party we fundamentally opposed to the creeping erosion of our personal life that we are experiencing currently. It is particularly our job to explain the dangers to a wider public. That is one of the joys and the challenges in standing for election, it forces you to move outside the echo chamber of the web and social media.
How long do you think it will take for the PPUK to have someone elected to a significant position of public power, such as Westminster or the European parliament?
The only thing one can predict about politics is its unpredictability. We regularly consult with the Swedes and Germans who are out ahead of us in terms of time they have been organised and their resources. Both are now clear electoral forces, with the PP Deutschland no longer being one of the 'others' on bar charts. I am particularly pleased that they are now consistently beating the far right, and have just won 31 seats in local elections in Hesse. They are both an inspiration, and proof that success is possible.
However, the UK's antiquated first past the post voting system does make it harder for us to break through. On the doorstep and in the chat rooms people say they like what we stand for, but can't vote for us because they don't want to let the Tories in, or a myriad of other tactical considerations.
This is why we are supporting a Yes vote in the up coming AV referendum. It will free people up to actually vote for candidates they believe in, rather than second guessing tactics. Overall it will be a good thing for ORG, as it will be possible to rate candidates from various parties higher if they show a willingness to listen to the digital agenda.
All we need in the short term is even one result where we outperform expectations. The Germans observed that once they started having success it sharpened up the other parties' stances on digital issues. I am looking forward to the next round of elections where we are fielding excellent candidates for the Scottish parliament and for local councils.
As a political party, you are in direct competition with the very parties you are trying to influence when it comes to digital rights. How do you make sure you are being heard?
Currently, I do not see us as being in competition with any other parties in the digital rights arena, because no other British parties acknowledge there is such a concept as digital rights. As I say, one of the goals should be to force them to have a coherent approach to the digital arena.
There may be individual MPs who are willing to speak out, like Tom Watson or Julian Huppert, but they will face a struggle to define policy creation in their party. It is hugely frustrating that as a rule politicians don't seem to "get" the Internet and the cultural arena. We exist to provide candidates and activists who do.
Being a political party with a very distinctive stance on intellectual property and digital policy means that we can break through in to the media.
Far from worrying about being heard, my worry is that I never shut up! Since taking over as leader there has never been a week for me without interviews for print, radio and TV. I think producers have realised that we are refreshingly free from the bland statements and spin of the mainstream. Of course our aim is to use the web better than other parties. It was pleasing to be declared the social media winner of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Yes, I would have rather won the seat, but it is a victory in an arena that is important to us.
What do you say to those who are sympathetic to what PPUK stands for, but unwilling to support the party out-right due to a lack of knowledge on where you stand on other key issues such as foreign policy, crime and the NHS?
In the first stages of developing PPUK it has been vital to have a clearly focussed manifesto, so that there can be no doubt that what we have to offer is something different to other parties. Also what matters at the end of the day is action, not PR and manifestos. Just look at the Liberal Democrats.
How I see the next stage of our policy development is emphasising our approach affects all areas of our public life. Concerned about the NHS? Then we need to stop subsidising pharmaceutical companies' profits and marketing budgets through the patent system. Concerned about crime? Then we should stop wasting money on ineffective and intrusive CCTV. Concerned about foreign policy? Then we need to support transparency in our international affairs, and stand up for whistle blowers, not condemn them.
One of the things that is different about us as a party is that we do not have a whip, we encourage discussion, listening and debate. While we have clear core values, we are not afraid of different nuances. I do not see that as a weakness, but as a strength. At the end of the day anyone elected for PPUK would be first and foremost responsible to their constituents, not to our party, or me.
We are as yet a young party, but one with a great deal of energy given that we have already contested a General Election and gathered a great deal of media focus in our short life to date. This is the ideal time to get involved and shape the future direction of Pirate Party UK. One thing you can count on going forward is that the only way that you can guarantee having a politician sympathetic to ORG's goals is to vote for a PPUK candidate.
Loz Kaye - Leader Pirate Party UK
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