Stances like this, as well as Cameron’s plans to block encrypted messaging applications as well as a distillation of the Humans Right Act, have led Brighton-based Ind.ie - creators of a pro-privacy social network, file sharing system and smartphone - to leave the UK.
“It would be ever so slightly ironic to stay in a country that just scrapped its Human Rights Act when you’re trying to further the cause of human rights, don’t you think?” Aral Balkan, founder and developer of the Indie phone, wrote this week.
Will Europe save the day?
The possibility of stronger legislation from Europe concerning data protection, privacy and human rights to be announced this year is not enough to keep the team working within the British Isles.
“I have very little faith that Europe will stand strong on protecting our human right to privacy”, Balkan tells Techworld.
Concerns over lobbyists’ influence on the incoming general data protection regulation have surfaced before. An EU Data Protection Advisor recently warned that the manifesto was at risk from corporate influences who favoured "big data over big data protection". Balkan says: “They seem to be more interested in keeping Silicon Valley companies happy and being rewarded with investments into ‘startup’ ecosystems and increased lobbying spends.
“If we are to tackle the issue of protecting privacy (and thus human rights) in the EU, we should take a long, hard look at the staggering amounts of institutional corruption at the state and EU levels and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the remove the influence of corporate finance in public policymaking.”
Balkan explains that despite the stronger legislation from the EU concerning data protection, privacy and human rights promised for the end of the year, his organisation - and many others like it in the UK - has “very little faith that Europe will stand strong on protecting our human right to privacy.”
“They seem to be more interested in keeping Silicon Valley companies happy (and being rewarded with investments by them into “startup” ecosystems and increased lobbying spends). If we are to tackle the issue of protecting privacy (and thus human rights) in the EU, we should take a long, hard look at the staggering amounts of institutional corruption at the state and EU levels and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the remove the influence of corporate finance in public policymaking."
'Inviting the wolf to the table to comment on the sheep's welfare'
Balkan blames “multistakeholderism” and “co-regulation” that sees companies like Google and Facebook invited to the EU table to decide how they should be regulated and give advice on what privacy protection should be implemented to protect individuals.
“That’s like inviting the wolf to the table to comment on the welfare of the sheep. Multistakeholderism, public-private partnerships, and co-regulation are all euphemisms for institutional corruption. If we’re serious about tackling these issues let's work to remove the influence of (mainly American, and mainly Silicon Valley) companies from the policy decisions made in Europe that concern the welfare of Europeans.”
Stages in development
Balkan, who has been programming for over 30 years - and working professionally for 15 - is just about to kick off Ind.ie’s pre alpha programme for Heartbeat. Heartbeat is a social network - one part of the underlying technology the startup is creating to eventually offer an entirely private smartphone (the Indie phone) in 2016. Pulse - a private version of Dropbox and a bridge tool called Waystone will follow with the help of crowdfunding.
“I have a couple of days of coding left until I can get there and then we’re going to test it out with the team for a few days before starting to open it up to the 850 or so alpha testers who supported us in the top two tiers during crowdfunding. It’s taken us about 6 months to get here, which is much longer than I’d originally estimated, but it’s not like anyone has built this before so we’re also learning as we go.”
Private island, Scandinavia or Scotland?
Development aside, now the small firm must think about where to relocate.
“We don’t know where we’re moving to yet. We’ve had a lot of words of support and lots of invitations to come visit," said Balkan.
So far, a private Island in Panama owned by a friend, a handful of Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Iceland due to their human rights credentials as well as Berlin are top of the list for Ind.ie. Scotland is another option, Balkan adds, “If we could be confident they it would leave the UK and resist the Tory push for ubiquitous surveillance.”