A snooper's charter and superfast broadband: what a Conservative government means for tech

From the BBC and privacy to broadband and 5G, here’s how Conservatives will reshape British tech

What a conservative government will do for tech

About two weeks ago we donned the journalistic equivalent of a hairshirt and spent several days immersed in the manifestos of the UK's main political parties.

We did this not for fun - trust us, it was no fun at all - but so that we could bring you our guide to the main parties' policies for the UK General Election 2015. Against all polling data, the Conservatives won a majority, which means there’s a very good chance their promises may come to pass between now and 2020. 

So, with a heavy heart, we decided to revisit the Tories' manifesto in order to outline what what their victory means for you, technology in Britain, and the gadgets you love…

1. More broadband…

This will “ensure everyone is part of the digital economy”

Every political party talked up rolling out superfast broadband — only the details varied.

The Conservatives have promised the “most comprehensive and cheapest superfast broadband coverage of any major European country,” with 95% of the UK catered for by 2017, and satellite subsidies to assist the hardest-to-reach areas. This will “ensure everyone is part of the digital economy”. The manifesto also pledged to fit out trains with new Wi-Fi equipment, and provide free Wi-Fi in libraries — assuming some still exist by 2017.

2. … but also more web censorship

What you’ll be able to access by default online remains up for debate, though, with the manifesto stating the Conservatives will require ISPs to “block sites that carry large amounts of illegal content, including their proxies”. The party also wants users warned when breaching copyright, search engines to block the “worst-offending sites,” age verification to be rolled out for sites containing pornographic material, and age-ratings for all music videos.

We would point out that some of these promises are unworkable, and that default censorship might be the thin edge of the wedge for greater crackdowns on content blocking, but we fear that would result in someone wearing a blue rosette yelling “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?” in our faces for the next five years.

3. An open data policy — with more snooping

The government’s plans for your personal data are more troubling

We will continue to be the most transparent government in the world,” says the Conservative manifesto, despite the party obliterating its own online archive in 2013, according to The Guardian. More promisingly, the manifesto says the government will “save you time, hassle and money” by moving more services to the web, while also tackling digital exclusion, ensuring digital assistance is available for those who aren’t online.

However, the government’s plans for your personal data are more troubling.

As reported by The Guardian and others, it seems very likely the party will revive the so-called Snooper’s Charter now that Liberal Democrats aren’t around to block it. The manifesto isn’t quite so explicit, but nonetheless talks of ensuring the police and security services will be able to access communications metadata — if not the actual content — “as technology develops”.

4. More mobile — unless you’re in prison

Mobile’s also on the Conservative agenda, with the manifesto saying the party will hold operators to their “new legally binding agreement to ensure that 90% of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017”. Prisons are a perhaps obvious exception (with “greater use of mobile phone blocking technology” on the way).

The party says it will continue to invest in mobile infrastructure to ensure the final 0.3–0.4% of properties lacking voice/message coverage can at least get those things. No mention of a Candy Crush top-up for them; 5G’s in the mix, though, with a vague promise about the UK being a “world leader” in its development.

5. Smarter travel

The Conservative manifesto says the party will “introduce smart ticketing”

Along with the aforementioned train Wi-Fi, the Conservative manifesto says the party will “introduce smart ticketing” as part of its measures to make commuting slightly less like entering a hellmouth every morning. (Part-time season tickets and better compensation arrangements when trains are late are also promised.)

For those that prefer cars, the party foresees a point when “almost every car and van” will be a “zero emission vehicle”, although not until 2050. Half a billion quid will be invested over the next five years to achieve this, and the party is also hoping to get more people on their bikes. (We presume literally rather than figuratively.)

6. Smarter companies

Noting that more tech companies are starting up in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, the Conservative manifesto is bullish about technology industries, saying the party will “direct further resources towards the Eight Great Technologies — among them robotics and nanotechnology — where Britain is set to be a global leader”. (SkyNet, it seems, will have a British accent.) The manifesto calls for more jobs in science and technology, and ensuring British universities can profit from their inventions.

Curiously, though, there’s little supporting policy when it comes to education, with Conservative promises light on STEM, bar an aim to “make Britain the best place in the world to study maths, science and engineering” and to employ a bunch of new maths and physics tutors. IT is entirely absent, and coding is only mentioned in a single throwaway line.

7. A bit of a kicking for the BBC

That all sounds a bit more second gear than Top Gear for the corporation's long-term prospects

There’s good news for films (tax relief!) and children’s television (more tax relief!), and even for fans of ebooks (remote access!), but not so much for the BBC.

The manifesto says the Conservatives will deliver a “comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries”.

That all sounds fair enough, and there's a line about the BBC World Service being “vital”, but the BBC will have to maintain its world-class service with less money, since the fee will be frozen, and it’ll continue to be top-sliced for “digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country”.

That all sounds a bit more second gear than Top Gear for the corporation's long-term prospects, but it's better than Scrapheap Challenge! (Which, yes, we know was a Channel 4 show, but just go with us on this one!)