E-envoy tells government to lay off the Net

Alex Allan asks government to avoid heavy-handed regulation of the Net and acknowledges the under-developed role it can play in bringing people back to politics

The UK's e-envoy Alex Allan warns the government not to interfere in the knowledge economy as he claims the Internet could be its closest political ally.

Allan's comments come in a keynote speech made in Washington Tuesday as part of his first US fact-finding tour. He is also due to spend time in Silicon Valley in an effort to boost Britain's e-commerce industry.

In his speech, Allan asks government to avoid heavy-handed regulation of the Internet. "Much of the strength of the Internet comes because governments have avoided interfering," he says. "Governments have to be very careful not to damage this innovative strength, and the economic benefits that it has brought."

The government has come in for heavy criticism for its Internet snooping bill -- the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP)bill. Following accusations from the Institute of Directors and the British Chamber of Commerce that the bill would damage e-commerce in the UK the government climbed down and has this week issued several ammendments to the bill. The business community is currently considering whether these ammendments are sufficient.

Allan acknowledges the as yet under-developed role the Internet can play in bringing people back to politics. "Cynicism in the political process is a challenge for government and political parties around the world. It is manifest in low turnouts, complaints about the system, and in a willingness to support candidates from outside the political mainstream," he says. "If the Internet can enable us to get more people interested in politics and wanting to play a role, that can only be a good thing."

In the local elections in May, the government experimented with flexible voting as part of its plan to introduce voting online in the future. Allan admits the technology is not yet sophisticated enough to support full online voting. "There's still some way to go in developing the necessary robustness and security," he says.

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