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Martha Lane Fox: British politicians aren’t equipped to deal with the challenges technology presents

The UK is “very far away” from having politicians equipped to deal with the scale of the challenges technology presents, Martha Lane Fox warned today.

Speaking at Infosecurity Europe, the British peer and Lastminute.com co-founder said politicians need to “dramatically up-skill” if they are to tackle the industry’s biggest issues.

In the keynote speech on the second day of the conference, Lane Fox described MPs’ attitudes to technology as “dangerous” and singled out Theresa May for criticism.

“No politician at the minute is going to lose votes by knocking the internet,” she said. “That’s quite a dangerous place to be because it will lead to bad, reactive legislation.”

She added: “Having a prime minister coming out and blaming the internet when things go wrong is not helpful.”

The internet entrepreneur said the prospect of politicians stifling innovation is particularly problematic for the UK as it prepares to leave the EU. “Post-Brexit, we have no choice but to become the most digital nation we can be, to ensure we’re resilient for the future.”

But Lane Fox, who was instrumental in establishing the Government Digital Service in 2011, said GDS and gov.uk proved it was possible to up-skill “huge numbers of people in the civil service [and politics]”.

Giving politicians the technical knowledge to legislate effectively is a key goal of Lane Fox’s thinktank, DotEveryone. But she told Infosecurity attendees today that this is just “one part of the puzzle”.

“The second part is us as individuals – how do we help people to overcome those blindspots, how do we make them more equipped to deal with some of the data and security and privacy challenges they feel they want to overcome?”

Helping people with a poorer understanding of technology navigate the internet, and the digital world more broadly, is key to addressing this issue, the peer said.

The final part of Lane Fox’s puzzle involves the corporate sector. The peer, who sits on Twitter’s board, said the internet is at an inflection point and needs a fresh approach: “We can design for security and privacy, but this does require the corporate sector to be bold in making changes.” 

But Lane Fox argued that while recent events, such as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, have highlighted the flaws of the internet, the biggest threat to the web is not from Silicon Valley. “We have forgotten that the people who understand the internet best are Russia, China, North Korea and Iran,” she said. “Arguably it’s those governments we should be looking at; we’ve all become a bit obsessed by the West, but we should be looking East.”