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Politicians are ‘clueless about the internet’, says Mozilla exec


Theresa May
UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who first proposed the 'Snoopers' Charter'

A senior Mozilla executive says he’s increasingly concerned that many politicians are “clueless about the internet”.

Speaking to TrustedReviews, Mark Surman, the executive director at the Mozilla Foundation, revealed that the leaders deciding on tech law in Washington and Whitehall might not be up to scratch.

I’m deeply worried that our political leaders and government are not sophisticated in their understanding of the internet and what it means for society,” Surman revealed.

He continued: “It’s a huge risk, and it’s the reason that we see bad laws coming forward like the Snoopers’ Charter, and SOPA, which I think shifted things as much as Snowden in terms of online activism.”

The Snoopers’ Charter, officially named the Investigatory Powers Bill, is a draft bill proposed by Home Secretary Theresa May, which would force Internet Service Providers to retain a history of the websites visited by every UK citizen on a rolling one-year basis. The charter also mandates that UK police and intelligence officers will be able access this data without a warrant.

SOPA, meanwhile, was a controversial United States bill aimed at tackling piracy, and would have prevented search engines from linking to copyright-infringing websites. The bill was eventually scrapped.

Bemoaning such laws, Surman argued that we can’t afford to keep taking “18th or 19th Century thinking, and applying it to 21st Century technology”.

internetThe UN estimates that more than 3 billion people now use the internet globally

Surman said that discussions about technology – and encryption, in particular – shouldn’t be about “a trade-off between privacy and national security”, but instead about how we can create “safe democratic societies in the digital age”.

“Digital literacy is key, whether it’s for young people or older people, because it ties back to opportunity, personal safety, and democracy,” Surman told us.

“I think the issue we have is people just don’t understand the digital world, even though it’s so central to their life. Understanding privacy relates back to everything from identity theft to protecting your bank account,” the Mozilla exec continued. “Everyone should know the basics about encryption.”

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The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit founded by Mozilla – the Firefox browser folks – to help promote “openness, innovation, and participation on the internet”.

“The easier computers become to use, the more important digital literacy is,” Surman added. “To understand what’s going on is how we can shape our lives and avoid being exploited.”

Do you think politicians have a good track record on tech legislation? Let us know in the comments.


April 28, 2016, 6:09 pm

Been saying the same thing for years now here in the US. We have 70+ year old members of congress making laws about computers and the internet when they don't even know how to open an email attachment. I have a super limited understanding of human anatomy, excuse me while I go become the surgeon general.


April 28, 2016, 8:37 pm

You only have to look at the legislation for cookies to realise they haven't a clue. They made no distinction between cookies needed for the site to persist information so that the site would actually work and cookies needed so that Google and Facebook can pursue you across the internet. The result? A message at the top of every site that everyone ignores.

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