This paper sets out a framework for Liberal Democrat policy in the area of Information and Communications Technology (in this paper we will use term “IT” to refer to Information and Communications Technology). As IT has tended to become pervasive over recent years, the paper necessarily covers a wide range of issues that are also covered by other policy papers. It should therefore be read in conjunction with those other papers and not taken as the last word on the wide range of subjects that are touched on within the paper. The ambition of the paper is to tease out some of the IT specific issues and outline policy ideas for them rather than to comprehensively cover the whole Liberal Democrat approach in areas such as education, utility regulation or privacy that are covered more fully elsewhere.

As well as the question of scope, the other specific challenge we faced in drawing up an IT policy was the question of relevance over time. Developments occur so quickly in technology that anything written on the subject runs the risk of very quickly becoming out of date. This is especially the case when a paper is undergoing a lengthy deliberative process as with this one. The temptation is to only deal in generalities so as not to become out of date but this would leave the paper empty of suggestions on pressing topical issues. We have therefore attempted to deal both with general principles and with more specific current debates in the full knowledge that some of our hot topics may be decidedly lukewarm or have moved on in the near future.

The paper is divided into three sections:

This structure follows extensive feedback after the publication of the consultation paper in early 2002. The consultation paper very much concentrated on Internet related issues. Consultees made submissions to suggest that far more attention should be paid to the use of IT by Government (especially the problems with large IT projects such as those for National Insurance, criminal justice and the Child Support Agency) and the state of the IT industry in the UK. The substance of the consultation paper has therefore been wrapped up in the first section of this paper and two new sections have been added to cover the suggested areas.

The paper was subjected to online consultation for the first time in the party’s history of policy-making. After a slow start, this proved successful in generating a large number of responses. The results of this will be evaluated for consideration by other policy makers. What is certain is that this paper looks very different from how it would have done without the online consultation which has generated well over 500 messages to date.

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