What are the main political parties really saying about cyber security?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

In less than three weeks there could be a new government running the country with new policies and new legislation being implemented.

In less than three weeks there could be a new government running the country with new policies and new legislation being implemented.

The recent leaders debate failed to address technology issues in what was a discussion of domestic topics, and with two more debates set to take place on the preceding Thursdays it is unknown whether our industry will receive any kind of debate.

With issues such as the recently rushed Digital Economy Bill, funding for the police to fight e-crime, the protection of (or even a need for) national databases and consumer awareness of cyber threats, there does seem to be enough to fill a complete debate when it comes to security.

Just because technology did not get coverage in the leaders debate, it does not mean that it is not on the agenda. This week saw the publication of the manifestos by the main three political parties, and while SC has only seen The Pirate Party manifesto so far, I figured it would be worth seeing what the plans are.

Now anyone who has taken the time to read these will be aware that they are hefty documents, and summaries are available, but to start off I will look at what the incumbent Labour Party says. Titled ‘a future fair for all', a search for security gives us 25 results while technology only six, and it is in the section titled ‘crime and immigration' where the section ‘using technology to cut crime' gives us our first focus.

Labour proposes to continue to make full use of CCTV and DNA technology and claims that it is ‘proud of our record on civil liberties and have taken the DNA profiles of children off the database'. There is also coverage of the new biometric ID scheme, already covering foreign nationals but soon to be offered to (but will not be compulsory for) British nationals.

It states that these ‘will help fight the growing threat of identity theft and fraud, as well as crime, illegal immigration and terrorism. In the next Parliament ID cards and the ID scheme will be self-financing. The price of the passport and ID cards together with savings from reduced fraud across the public services will fully cover the costs of the scheme'.

Cyber security is mentioned briefly, with a claim that the ‘first duty of government is to protect the security of its citizens', and that cyber security is a ‘new challenge' within details of defence. Finally in its ‘50 steps to a future fair for all', number 47 proposes to ‘Use our international reach to build security and stability – combating terrorism and extremism, curbing proliferation, preventing and resolving conflict, and tackling climate change'.

Not the best showing from Brown's bunch if I am honest, I get the feeling that this is a bit of an aside from their manifesto. Moving on to the Conservatives, searching for security gives us an improved 41 results while technology a not too shabby 16.

This time we are looking at security in the economic plans, with the Tories ‘commitment to carry out a strategic defence and security review', however it is on page 116 where details of the National Security Council is laid out, and primarily it is with regard to military defence. In this council, which will be chaired by the Prime Minister, it will create a National Security Adviser and a new National Resilience Team for Homeland Security. It will also develop a National Security Strategy and oversee a Strategic Defence and Security Review that implements that strategy, and establish a new Permanent Military Command for Homeland Defence and Security to provide a more structured military contribution to homeland security.

The main focus on cyber security comes from the section ‘restore our civil liberties', which I only found through looking for ‘commissioner'. Here it claims that Labour's approach to personal privacy ‘is the worst of all worlds – intrusive, ineffective and enormously expensive'. It proposes to scrap ID cards, the National Identity Register and the ContactPoint database, and it believes that personal data should be controlled by individual citizens themselves.

There are also plenty of plans for investment in science and technology, but in the ‘invitation to join the government of Britain' there is more focus on cyber security than with the Labour party, although it is unclear how it will tackle e-crime and cyber issues, as to what happens with Brown's proposal to supply free laptops.

The last of the main parties is the Liberal Democrats, although despite Nick Clegg's admirable showing on the first election debate, it is a poor showing in the keyword search, as a search for security gives us 12 results while technology only two – neither of which relate to cyber issues.

In this more condensed manifesto, it proposes better government IT procurement where it will investigate ‘the potential of different approaches such as cloud computing and open-source software'.

Much like the Conservatives, the Lib Dems claim that ‘it is an individual's right to live their lives as they see fit, without discrimination, with personal privacy, and with equal rights before the law'.

It proposes a Freedom Bill that will see regulation of CCTV and stop extradition to the US – which would help Gary McKinnon but raise eyebrows when it comes to people such as Abu Hamza – and it also proposes to scrap ‘intrusive' identity cards and ‘unnecessary new passports with additional biometric data'. It also proposes to end plans to store email and internet records without good cause, and scrap the ‘intrusive' ContactPoint database.

Although I have searched through rather than read the manifestos of the main political parties, there is a slight feeling of satisfaction that the opposition parties are prepared to at least mention data security, but I do feel that there is an opportunity missed here.

I doubt that this will influence your choice of who to vote for, and that was not the intention at all. With cyber threats so apparent to us, it is disappointing that it is so low on the radar of our leaders. Whether that changes from the 7th May remains to be seen.

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