Teaching technology isn’t about the economy, it’s about democracy

Teaching technology isn’t about the economy, it’s about democracy

I recently spent some time at Raspberry Jamboree, a day of education and sharing, based around the credit-card sized low-cost computer, the Raspberry Pi. The demographic here is wonderful. Yes, there are the middle-aged men with beards you may have expected. But there are also plenty of women and children — boys and girls. The atmosphere is inquisitive, open and discursive. Everyone is learning. People point to the various components on sale to accessorise their little computers and ask strangers: “What does that do?”

I had a great time.

Two weeks later I got a phone call from the BBC. Will I come on and talk about Theresa May’s plans for the internet following the London and Manchester attacks?

Here we go again, I thought.

Theresa May, like many politicians, likes to talk about ensuring that terrorists can’t communicate beyond the surveillance of the state. It sounds pretty reasonable to the uneducated — which is most people when it comes to the inner workings of the internet. Why would Google, Facebook and Apple want to allow terrorists to communicate? Surely they can allow GCHQ a little peek into people’s messages if it will prevent a tragedy?

Of course, it isn’t that simple. There are all sorts of reasons why it just isn’t practical — or desirable — to give the security services a key to our secured communications. Cory Doctorow sums them up best.

To put it even more succinctly, interfering with encryption would collapse many of the services on which our modern lives are increasingly dependent, while leaving terrorists free to access a separate range of entirely secure technologies.

The problem is, most people don’t understand this. They’re ill-equipped for the technical argument, let alone the moral one.

This is why events like Raspberry Jamboree and the wider initiative to educate people about technology is so important. Yes, digital skills are crucial to the economy, but they are also crucial to all other aspects of modern life.

Participation isn’t just about the skills you need to access services, it’s about a reasonable proportion of the population being able to make informed choices about the controls placed on those services.

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Tom Cheesewright