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Dr Jenny Woods #rdggeek

Jenny Woods at Reading Geek Night

The draft Communications Data Bill proposes draconian changes to the monitoring and storage of our internet browsing and communications records. Challenging it led one Reading resident into the world of Whitehall and parliamentary process. Will the application of plain old fashioned smarts win out and save the day for privacy, security and innovation?

Dr Jenny Woods

Reading’s own Jenny Woods gave a great little talk last night at Reading Geek Night. I wasn’t able to stay for the full event (I’d have like to have heard the Q&A, and Runa Sandvik from the Tor Project). I was booked to be there on photo-taking duties, so here’s Jenny keeping everyone informed of progress challenging the Home Office’s Draft Communications Data Bill aka the Snoopers’ Charter.

As well as issues surrounding this specific Bill, Jenny took some time in her 10 minute slot to talk a bit about engaging in the political process. I think this is important, as an individual, a geek, and an activist. People are generally disengaged from politics, despite the impact it has on our lives. Perhaps the only way that is going to change is by people hearing not from political activists (even though we are), but from people with shared interests. From the positive response, I think she did a great job of balancing references to the Lib Dems with talk about why it’s important this particular community should care, no matter their political preference.

Jenny’s progress on this issue is an impressive one, starting as a concern about what used to be called the Communications Capability Development Programme. From a general concern about internet privacy / security, she caught the reference in the press to the Queen’s Speech that managed to escape the attention of the Lib Dems in Gt George Street. She then pulled together a small team of advisors to draft (and pass) an amendment at Spring Conference, which it was my pleasure to be part of.

Her efforts gave the Lib Dems – including Julian Huppert MP and Paddy Ashdown – a strong boost in being able to stand up to this latest attack on liberal principles. Her amendment proved particularly useful for staking out a position in the media. She’d be the first to point out, though, that there were many others at work, such as Helen Duffet pulling together conference calls that helped bring in views from activists including Zoe O’Connell, Jennie Rigg, Mark Pack, Jonathan Calder, Mark ValladaresRichard Morris, and more whose names don’t spring to mind as I write this.

Quite how I got shanghai’d from giving advice on policy to taking photos I’m not sure :) But I hope I did her justice. Much of our future is digital; we need campaigners like her staking out the principles which need to be promoted and defended.

Getting back to Reading Geek Night, it was also nice to see representation from the Reading Lib Dems, including James Moore. It put me in mind of the speech I got the chance to make last autumn conference, on community politics. The “geek community”, no matter the self-effacing title, is an important one in a technologically advanced society. We need to ensure it’s one that we are engaged with.

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