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The Queen's Speech: What it means for technology

Engadget Engadget 18/05/2016 Nick Summers
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Another year, another Queen's Speech. In this hyper-traditional ritual, Her Royal Highness heads to the House of Lords to say a few words scripted by the current government. It is integral to the State Opening of Parliament, and lays out the general legislative agenda of the government for this year's session. The speech covers everything our leaders hope to achieve in the near future, so let's take a look at all the important tech-related to-dos.


"Legislation to enable the future development of the UK's first commercial spaceports."

The new law would form part of the Modern Transport Bill. The UK's desire to build a spaceport on British shores isn't new, however. In the summer of 2014, the government revealed eight locations that it was considering for the landmark project. Six of these were in Scotland, leaving Wales and England with one apiece. Slowly but surely, these sites have been whittled down -- if reports are to be believed, a spot in Newquay, Cornwall is now the frontrunner. The hope is that such a site will, one day, enable commercial spaceflight and attract investors in spaceplane operations.


"New rules to bring safe commercial and personal drone flight for households and businesses a step closer."

Most drone flights in the UK are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority. Pilots are restricted by a number of laws, which the organisation has broken down into a "drone code" for beginners. These rules are extensive, but various incidents in the UK -- which include filming football matches and smuggling contraband into prisons -- has called them into question. Today's speech could be a reference to this debate, or the discussions that are taking place at the European level, between the Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Regardless, these "new rules" will form part of the UK's Modern Transport Bill.

Driverless cars

"New laws to make the UK ready to pioneer driverless cars."

"Ensuring appropriate insurance is available to support the use of autonomous and driverless vehicles."

The government is desperate for Britain to become a leader in autonomous transportation. It's funded a number of research projects that cover driverless pods, simulators and modified jeeps. Most tests are being conducted on private tracks, however, rather than the open road. While a Code of Practice exists for public testing, there seems to be a need for new, updated legislation that would allow driverless cars to be fully integrated into society. Part of that discussion is figuring out how they should be insured -- a matter that, according to the Queen's Speech, will soon be addressed.

Broadband for all

"Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband."

By this, Lilly means the introduction of a "Universal Service Obligation" that makes fast (10 Mbps) broadband a legal right. This is intended to compliment the Broadband Delivery UK program by requiring internet providers offer a minimum connection standard for the hardest-to-reach. Ofcom will also be allowed to redefine the minimum speed when it sees fit. But, since the idea was first introduced by government some time ago, the finer details have become more complicated. Instead of being an automatic right, it's likely communities will need to collectively request an upgrade to faster infrastructure, and may also be expected to contribute to the cost beyond a certain threshold.

The Universal Service Obligation forms part of the Digital Economy Bill, which will apparently lower the cost and simplify the rules for improving broadband infrastructure. Consumers will also be granted a new right to automatic compensation when their broadband isn't working as it should, and the relatively recent change to a provider-led method of switching supplier will be enshrined. Similarly, the UK's requirement that porn sites must implement age gates and various rules keeping cold callers and spam emailers in check will be included in the bill.

Human rights

"Proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights."

While it's not directly related to technology, the government is working towards replacing the current Human Rights Act with a "British Bill of Rights." This would allegedly "restore common sense to their application." As the Conservative Manifesto puts it, the new bill "will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK."

You'll need your tin-foil hat on for this bit, but it's institutions like the European Court of Human Rights that can become annoying for governments trying to push, say, a controversial new piece of surveillance legislation like the Investigatory Powers Bill. You see, laws that may violate fundamental rights to privacy and data protection can be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The European Union can be called upon too, but in a near-future dystopia where we disconnect our human rights legislation from European influence and leave the sanctuary of the EU, the UK will become the sole lawmaker, overseer and challenger of human rights for its citizens.

Jamie Rigg contributed to this report.

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