Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. Don't laugh at Europe's woes. The travails facing Greece are also ours (Observer)

Will Hutton warns that all of Europe, including the UK, will suffer if the struggle to reform Greece and to make the euro work is lost. As long as Britain owns a fifth of Greek bonds, it cannot stand on the sidelines.

2. We can be safe without torturing (Sunday Times)

Torture may sometimes work but it is always morally wrong, argues Martin Ivens. Nonetheless, it is no longer acceptable for us to offer terrorist suspects asylum in this country.

3. Why master juggler Cameron is suddenly dropping the balls (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley afgues that David Cameron is short of two qualities essential for a leader: a clear sense of purpose and a committed body of followers. He has failed to resolve the underlying tensions in the Conservative Party.

4. Touchy-feely catchy voter (Independent on Sunday)

We should give Gordon Brown credit for deciding he can do the "touchy-feely stuff" after all, says John Rentoul about Brown's TV interview with Piers Morgan.

5. Gordon Brown deserves our sympathy, not our vote (Sunday Telegraph)

But Matthew d'Ancona argues that although viewers will sympathise with Brown, their overall opinion of him will not change. For 13 years they have watched him intimidate his foes and destroy those who stand in his way.

6. The north is not history -- but it badly needs a new chapter (Independent on Sunday)

The world of EastEnders, 25 years old this week, is thriving but northernness is in decline, writes Andrew Martin. The BBC and any incoming government must assist its revival.

7. The hidden battle for parliament's soul (Observer)

Henry Porter says that MPs' struggle to repeal Standing Order 14, which allows the executive control over parliamentary business, is one of the most important moments for democracy in the past five years.

8. Where's the risk in Mrs Cable's tapestry needle? (Mail on Sunday)

The control freakery of the state and the futile pursuit of zero risk must end, writes Vince Cable.

9. Maybe this is the end of the beginning (Sunday Times)

A leading article in the Sunday Times argues that the military surge under way in Afghanistan is a bold and necessary move. If it succeeds, it could mark the beginning of the end of the insurgency and the start of Afghan autonomy.

10. The "Eye" has it -- the rest of us wish we had (Independent on Sunday)

The remarkable success of Private Eye, which has just recorded its highest circulation since 1992, reminds the rest of the media not to take themselves too seriously, writes Sarah Sands.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital