Netroots UK: uniting the progressive grass roots online

An event this Saturday will mobilise online resistance to the spending cuts.

In a few short months, Britain will feel the full pain of the government's programme of public spending cuts. That makes 2011 a vital year for the progressive organisations and individuals intent on opposing the austerity Budget.

This Saturday brings an event aimed at helping activists and groups work with each other to provide a more effective resistance to cuts.

Netroots UK is inspired by the annual Netroots Nation event that takes place in the US. The main focus will be practical – it will feature a series of workshop sessions on video-making, raising funds and turning online activity into offline action, as well as presentations from a range of speakers, including politicians, journalists, bloggers and online campaigners.

The New Statesman is an official supporting organisation of the event. I will be speaking at a workshop called "How to Make Sure the Media Delivers for Us", along with Kevin Maguire from the Daily Mirror, Anwar Akhtar of the Samosa and Hannah Lownsbrough from 38 Degrees. The session will look at how campaigners can get their message across in the mainstream media, and practical ways of communicating with journalists to help this along.

Other workshops include using humour in viral campaigns and making videos – there is a huge amount going on. There's more information on speakers and workshops at the Netroots website.

Netroots UK will take place on Saturday 8 January at the Trades Union Congress in Bloomsbury, central London. Tickets are just £5 and include lunch. You can register here.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496