Cambridge programme

Presented by NO2ID at the Cambridge Union, 9a Bridge Street, CB2 1UB.

This event is free (donations appreciated). No tickets needed, just turn up on the day.

Set up by Andrew Watson (with thanks to Stuart Weir and Frank Fisher).

9.45 – Video feed from London

11.15 - [Coffee break]

11.40 - Morning Cambridge sessions

1. The view from the trenches – engaging with government in the digital age

Central Government is keen to make better use of Information Technology to help citizens engage with it. One key initiative is “Transformational Government”, whose objective is to help the state know more about each citizen, and join up the knowledge it already has, so as to serve individual citizens better. Ministers have cited the example of the number of government agencies that have to be informed when a person dies – wouldn’t it be easier and less distressing for relatives to tell “the government” once, and then have departments share this information amongst themselves? Sections of the recently-announced Coroners and Justice Bill would allow government to do exactly this, but a YouGov opinion poll in January showed a 3:1 majority thought this would give governments too much power over the individual.

Meanwhile, organisations outside government like mySociety have built several simple-yet-effective web sites that help citizens engage with government much more effectively, yet don’t involve passing new laws or relaxing safeguards.

Where does the balance lie? Is Transformational Government aiming to solve a real problem for citizens, and if so, can it succeed? Is the potential invasion of the individual’s privacy worth the convenience? Are there better ways to use IT to help citizens engage with government? Our panel discusses.


Chris Howell (Cambridge City councillor)


Francis Irving (mySociety)

Neil Mcgovern (Cambridge City councillor)

Ian Tyes, Social Policy Coordinator, Cambridge Citizens’ Advice Bureau

2. Privacy and digital communication

Powers under the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA) have been progressively introduced over the last few years that give a huge range of government and quasi-government bodies authority to obtain anyone’s telephone call logs and internet records from their service providers when investigating relatively minor suspected crimes. The result has been a spate of press stories about local councils running MI5-style surveillance operations to investigate dog-fouling or whether families are lying about their address to get their children into good schools. The recently-proposed £6bn Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP) would go even further, permitting the security services to gather details of everyone’s ‘phone calls, email sent and web pages visited on a central government database, in real-time, in case it might be of use to them in the future.

Meanwhile, BT has conducted secret trials of the Webwise system (also known as “Phorm”) to monitor its customers’ web browsing habits, with the intention of using the data for targeted advertising. Are RIPA powers, IMP and Phorm proportionate responses to the problems they seek to address? What expectation to privacy should the citizen have in the digital communication age?


Rev. Philip Foster (science writer)


Andrew Brown (Open Rights Group)

George Danezis (Microsoft)

Alexander Hanff (sociologist)

Jason Clifford (UK Free Software Network)

3. Internet Censorship in the UK: Why, how, and by whom?

Free speech is the most contentious of all modern human rights – one man’s necessary limitation is another’s censorship. In the past decade the struggle between censors and internet users has made headlines worldwide, from China to Iran; now the battleground is right here in the UK.

The recent blocking of a Wikipedia page showed how extensive and effective our informal, unregulated censorship architecture has become, ministerial comments on age-rating for most websites, and prohibiting others altogether, show that the government’s appetite for further control hasn’t been dented by the controversy over the Wiki-block, or the furiously resisted criminalisation of extreme pornography. With laws enabling fast-track defamation claims against bloggers in sight, and further restrictions promised to counter peer to peer filesharing and other user generated content, is censorship becoming a standard feature of the British internet?

Does the government have a mandate for these actions? Is it right that websites can be blocked on the say of an unelected and unregulated charity? How has this situation developed, largely without any public debate? And can we trust those who censor porn and violence today, not to censor politically contentious material tomorrow?


Chairman: John Ozimek (The Register)

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon (Reader in Psychology, Birkbeck)

Alex Dymock (Backlash)

Frank Fisher (Blogger)

Sarah Robertson (IWF)

4. The database state

In the last 6 years central government has proposed keeping an unprecedented amount of data about citizens on central databases. The proposed National Identity Register would maintain more than 50 categories of information about everyone who renews a passport after 2011, including all their addresses, and details of every time their ID card (if they have one) is used in a shop or a bank. Meanwhile, the NHS is working on centralised health care records for everyone in England, accessible to hundreds of thousands of NHS employees, and the ContactPoint database will store details of every child in England, and be accessible to up to a million employees of councils and children’s charities. Is government via central database effective or desirable? Our panel discusses.


Andrew Haisley (Banking IT specialist)


David Clouter (Leave Them Kids Alone)

David Moss (Business Consultancy Services Ltd)

Helen Wilkinson-Makey (The Big Opt-Out)

12.40 – [Lunch break] (pubs and sandwich bars within 10 minutes’ walk)

14.00 – Debate: “This House believes that its civil liberties are under grave threat”


David Howarth MP (Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for


Prof. Andrew Gamble (Professor of Politics, University of Cambridge)


Bill Rammell MP (Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Tariq Sadiq (Labour Parliamentary Spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire)

Any attendee may speak in the debate (subject to time constraints).

15.30 – [Coffee break]

15.45 – Video feed from London

Warning: This event is still under construction and the final programme may look different.

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