Leave 'Digital Britain' alone


Our latest briefing paper (available online here) attacks the government’s Digital Britain white paper – the inspiration for the Digital Economy Bill currently working its way through Parliament – describing plans to intervene in the digital communications industry as “both mad and bad economics". The report’s author, digital communications expert and ASI fellow Eben Wilson, puts his case bluntly:

“Over the past twenty years, this thriving commercial sector has very rapidly created a vast engineering infrastructure at no cost to the taxpayer, and has generated large amounts of tax revenue in the process. It is hard to think of a better example of something the state should simply stay out of."

The report – Digital Dirigisme – covers the full range of issues addressed by the Digital Britain white paper, arguing throughout that the digital communications industry is characterized by rapid and unpredictable change, which governments and regulators simply can’t keep up with. As a result, their interventions will invariably do more harm than good. Instead, the report urges that:

"Government should restrict its activities to establishing a clear legal framework of ownership in which private entities trade privately, within a similarly clear legal framework on the use of individual identity data."

The report goes on to criticize the government for not taking public concerns about the security of personal data seriously enough, describing their approach to this issue as “bland" and “disappointing". The report suggests that personal identity and all data associated with it should be defined in law as private property owned by the individual. Any use of that personal data without the owner’s consent would thereby become unlawful.

The report also accuses the government of ignoring a “dinosaur in the room" by failing to address the taxpayer-funded BBC’s market dominance, which it says crowds out other commercial players. It proposes a radical programme of phased privatization of the BBC, coupled with progressive cuts in the licence fee.