Well now. Usually Tuppenceworth’s denizens take an Olympian view of the rest of the Internet. They may make use of it for research, but they rarely comment of the hot topic of the moment. Speaking for myself, it may be something to do with other people getting there first with all the good ideas.
But I’m going to consciously break this habit by mentioning the discussions on setting up a digital rights organisation which would lobby for, advise on and promote sensible electronic policies. A magnificent example of how effective an organisation like this was when the Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting took on the Civil Service spokesman Minister Martin Cullen and pushed electronic voting machines out of the door and into a number of properties rented from Returning Officers by the Returning Officers around the country. And on the lobbying side, IrelandOffline has been doing Trojan work offering an alternative to eircom’s vision of internet use for years now. And their spokespeople are always more credible than the eircom bods wheeled out to spout guff.
Lost of people saying things there, and as usual they’ve got to the good stuff before me. So for my contribution, I’ll just say that we’re not the only nation wondering why they can’t have an organisation as powerful as the American EFF to make noise about the things that matter to them. Danny O’Brien, who now works for the EFF and writes a column for the Irish Times on Friday (along with Karlin Lillington’s column the joint highlight of the Friday Business Supplement) as well as for the Guardian recently chaired a meeting in the UK where they asked themselves “Where’s the British EFF?”
You can hear what happened at that meeting, if you’ve the wherewithal, by downloading an MP3 of about an hour long that’s available from the conference’s site.
Amongst other things, Cory Doctorow of the EFF describes that organisation as an ‘Impact Litigator’. They take the very tidy cases that turn on the specific points of law that the EFF want a judgement on and drive them as far as they need to establish their constitutionality.
Demonstrating a slightly shaky grasp of pan-European judicial systems, as do we all when forced to think of them at all, he suggested that the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law gave the Brits a chance to attempt to rely on something akin to a constitution, with an appeal to the Court of Human Rights in The Hague (known as the ECHR to its Mammy).
Alas for the constitutionless British, the ECHR can’t strike down a law they don’t like. They can only apply moral pressure by finding a practice or law to be in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Court of Justice can really bite, of course. But it doesn’t deal, as matters stand, with matters of Human Rights directly. It only decides whether matters are in contravention with the EU Treaties. So really, the EFF isn’t a model that can be directly applied to the UK.
Nor can it be applied to Ireland. Though we do actually have a Constitution, which puts us at least a step ahead. What we don’t have is, well anything else we’d need. We don’t have the volume of cases that would let an Irish Impact Litigator choose the one case that hangs just on the question they want litigated. And we don’t have a system that welcomes litigation just to find out if a law can be struck down. You need locus standi- a personal stake- to take a case. Unless you’re the President of Ireland. Then you can forward Acts of the Oireachtas straight to the Supreme Court to have their Constitutionality definitively pronounced on.
The rest of us have to muddle along.
So the question isn’t really ‘Where’s the Irish EFF?’ because we can’t have an EFF here. Rather it should be ‘What would an Irish Digital Rights organisation do?’
Though it isn’t as snappy.