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Democracy, Plurality, Interoperability PDF Print E-mail

Today a lot more people than usual will be wanting to watch the proceedings of the Home Affairs and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committees.

The hearings will be taking place this afternoon in Portcullis House probably in a room not unlike the one here and as you can see the audience capacity will be about thirty people which today, looks like it could be a bit of a problem .

Don't worry! You'll be able to watch the proceedings on Parliament Live. Oh, wait a moment...

If for example you want to watch a short film about how Select Committees work: Scrutiny Uncovered you will notice that you have to use Microsoft Silverlight

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Unfortunately this has consequences:

    For most people, in order to watch democracy in action you will also need to have a computer using Microsoft Windows or a modern Apple Computer, that is none of these. You are locked-in to the upgrade cycle of both organisations and if you don't pay eventually you can't play.

    For Linux (actually, there are others) Parliament TV helpfully suggests that you could install Moonlight but this is a barrier to all but the confident and the inclined, though even then the website doesn't inspire confidence. (Also, if Moonlight were pre-installed commercially, the company could be vulnerable to litigation over software patents as we can see see here or in 36 other cases).

There's another problem too. As discussed in Domesday, .doc and DRM it's all about longevity. Statute law is ultimately derived from Magna Carta first written in 1215, still readable and three clauses remain unrepealed. Defending your rights will require access to case law which stretches back before Magna Carta

It is unlikely we are going to be so lucky with recordings of democracy in action. How long will Silverlight remain viable? It's not that it's a Microsoft product. It's about the importance of open standards and interoperability. Already the underlying technology for Silverlight is in question as Microsoft moves to support the emerging web standard HTML5

Without permanent records, rewriting history becomes easier with unpredicable consequences or worse

-- Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 19 July 2011

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