Therese Hirst

party: English Democrats
constituency: Bradford West

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To what degree should access to information on the internet be restricted by the state or private companies?

organisation: Open Rights Group (ORG)

Sorry, I think that an answer has been submitted due to a technical error so please disregard any earlier response. Thank you. My answer: With the meteoric rise of technology, the internet and social media there is yet to be established an agreed domestic and international legal framework amongst lawyers and those responsible for Internet technologies over the precise rights and freedoms and limitations that should be placed on an individual's rights. From the technological standpoint, JD Rucker on the Techi Blog argues that outcomes are key, and elevating the internet to the status of an inalienable right will result in "increased opportunity, improved education, and the end of hostilities based upon ignorance". Others argue that internet use and access may also fall within Article 8 ECHR, the right to family and private life, as email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter are now essential tools of interaction between friends and family. As a former teacher of RE and lecturer in Law I have a seen just how revolutionary access to the internet has been - and contiunes to be - for access to information which offers greater opportunities for our children and adults in education. The impact of this cannot be overststated and as such any limits or restrictions which seeks to limit this should be opposed. However, we have seen the growing rise over the internet of people who are grooming and sexually exploiting our children. This cannot go unabated and internet moguls such as Google have a duty to protect their young users from this kind of threat and criminal activity. So I would support any reasonable attempts which are proportionate to limit access to sites which may pose a threat to our children and to their morals. Whilst I personally do not like the idea pornography being available over the internet I do feel that it is the right of every adult in a free scoiety to be able to choose whether or not to access such sites but that warnings and limitations should be placed such sites for people under 18. Freedom of information requests relating to the State have to be limited to that which is in the "national interest" and when the legislation was introduced under the Labour government in 2000, there was a sense that it was not wide enough in its scope and, as such, it meant that public bodies were still far from being the subject of accountability when it came to matters of public importance. Naturally, of great controversy was the question of whether or not the Attorney General who advised Tony Blair PM, on the legality or otherwise, to go to war in Iraq should be made public. Historically, there has been the thirty year rule over disclosure of cabinet and intelligence documents to protect the public interest and I do not feel it would be beneficial to change this. It is mostly in the interests of national security and for the functioning of government that there be some limits on the freedom of information that can be accessed by the general public. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides a wide area of limits on freedom of information requests such as on health and safety and the envirnoment; specifically on information relating to legislation introduced by the EU on the envirnoment. This is clearly unaccpetable and as a party which seeks a withdrawal from the EU and for England to be a sovereign nation, this would be another valid reason to endorse that view. When it comes to the rights of private companies to restrict information on the internet this should, again, be proportionate - and in the public interest. Recent legislation that was introduced to hide the personal addresses of shareholders cast far too wide a net and should have been restricted to companies who may have been the target of extremist animal rights or extremist right to life groups which posed a threat to an individuals personal security, for example shareholders in Huntingdon Live Sciences. Legal experts such as Julian Velasco argue that two rights — the right to elect directors and the right to sell shares — are more important than any others, and that these rights should be considered “the fundamental rights of the shareholder,” and that, as such, they deserve a great deal of respect and protection by law. Other than that, shareholder rights do not, and should not, hold equal weight under the law. Nevertheless, although directors may be the ultimate managers of the business, shareholders also have a legitimate role in corporate governance and neither should undermine the other. Shareholder rights should be economic rights, control rights, information rights, and litigation rights as these would ensure that the directors in the boardroom are accountable to their shareholders. We have seen what happens when the rights of shareholders has been restrcited not solely in regard to access to information on the internet but to information generally, and this was evidently so in the banking crisis. The general public should have the legal right to access information on a company as long as that information request is for a legitimate purpose, for example, they have their money invested in a company through their personal pension. Companies House has paved the way in this area with its site dedicated to providing information on companies that are insolvent or who have made applications for bankruptcy, names of directors and shareholders and access to company accounts. However, it has become increasingly concerning that there are companies who write reports on companies which may not be accurate and could be damaging to that company. These businesses should be regulated and made accountable for any errors that may cause financial damage as a direct result of their actions. On a related issue, there is a growng problem with the use of Credit Reference Agencies by banks and other financial lenders which can cause severe hardship to individuals when the information that is held by them is inaccurate. Robust regulation of this industry should be put in place to protect the individual from the growing encroachment by these companies on their right to a private life. Clearly, this area of law is quite extensive but I trust I have provided you with some of the issues that I think we need to address. Kind regards, Therese Hirst, PC Bradford West.

How would you reform surveillance law, oversight and practice to respect the rights of law-abiding people?

organisation: Open Rights Group (ORG)

As a lawyer who studied Civil Liberties and Human Rights I am keen to defend the rights and freedoms which define us as an open, free and democratic country and as a beacon around the world. Firstly, two of our fundamental freedoms is the right to privacy and freedom of expression and these should only be restricted where it is in the 'public good' but then it should be proportionate. Yet according to Amnesty International the UK government’s surveillance practices have been allowed to continue unabated and on an unprecedented scale, with major consequences for people’s privacy and freedom of expression. This is being challenged before the ECHR and the English Democrats fully support this challenge to protect our liberty and fundamental freedoms. The whistle-blower Edward Snowden brought to the world's attention the scale of the intrusion of our right to privacy and freedom of expression on the internet by the intelligence services and security firms both here in the UK and in the US (PRISM and Upstream) with millions of intercepts occuring on a daily basis, and with the UK doing it by the back-door with the help of the US; and I am delighted that Liberty has made a challenge to the ECHR to appeal these practices. Secondly, as we know the use of and access to surveillance by UK public bodies is regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Civil Liberties groups broadly argue that this legislation this too broad and confusing and call for it to be overhauled to ensure intrusions into personal privacy are all properly authorised and comply with human rights principles of necessity and proportionality. Again, I as an English Democrat, fully support the principle that the law in this area to be overhauled, as I firmly believe we are rapidly becoming a surveillance state. The law should be limited to what is proportionate and to what is necessary and this would be determined upon individual circumstances. A good way of preventing the State encroaching too much on an individuals liberty would be to restrict a particualr surveillance practice to a precise time-frame and limit is actual scope to a particular sector of society such as those reasonably suspected to be invloved in serious and organised crime and reasonably suspected of being involved in activities against the State. There is no justification by the State for surveillance practices to be all encompassing and encroaching on an individual's freedom and the State has to respect the right of the law-abiding citizen.