CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Despised Clegg could become Labour's unwilling kingmaker (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband's pugilistic attitude towards Nick Clegg is not shared by his brother, writes Mary Riddell. These contrasting positions could yet determine the outcome of the leadership election.

2. Clegg has no room for manoeuvre (Independent)

Elsewhere, Steve Richards says the Liberal Democrat leader's agile positioning has been undermined by his support for wildly risky cuts.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. Dear Lib Dem voter (Guardian)

In an appeal to Lib Dem voters, Ed Miliband urges them to look again at Labour and help challenge the dangerous small-state liberalism of the coalition.

4. Why I'm backing Ed Miliband (Daily Mirror)

Meanwhile, in the Daily Mirror, Neil Kinnock endorses Miliband Jr and says he is the man to put service and sincerity back at the core of democracy.

5. Social mobility: the playing field fallacy (Guardian)

The political class's obsession with social mobility implies that staggering inequalities of wealth are natural, writes Stefan Collini.

6. End the hypocrisy and talk Turkey (Financial Times)

Turkish membership of the EU will remain a fantasy until the rules on free movement of labour are changed, says Gideon Rachman.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. Let's Pickle a few more costly commissions (Daily Telegraph)

The Telegraph praises Eric Pickles's decision to scrap the Audit Commission and argues that every quango should be made to reapply for its job.

8. Bow your head. This is hallowed ground (Times)

Barack Obama's error was to underestimate the level of emotion evoked by Ground Zero, writes Ben Macintyre.

9. Death penalty: judicial killing in the free world (Guardian)

The global campaign to end the death penalty would gain immeasurably from its abolition in Japan and the US, says a leader in the Guardian.

10. A grotesque law that must be rejected in the name of freedom (Independent)

South Africa's plan to introduce statutory regulation of the press would hugely curtail freedom of information, warns Nicholas Dawes.

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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