The EU referendum, it's the hot topic just about everywhere except anywhere that's not the UK right now, and while Mr Cameron debates whether or not he should stay or he should go, and whether or not that'll lead to trouble - potentially even double - I'd like to take a look at the effect this is likely to have on technology within the UK, both from the view of the consumer, and of the economy.
One of the many issues often cited by eurosceptics is the EU's ability to impose laws upon our nation without gaining the consent of the UK government, and that's something I do think we should be concerned about. You see, we're going to be left at the mercy of the Conservatives and whatever legislation they dream up, with no chance of an external party being able to stop them. This sounds awfully like another country I know, I can't remember it's name, but I'm sure they just launched a missile, cut off their nations internet and executed someone for watching a video. Hmm.
The issues we face is that it removes the cover of some EU directives that currently protect us and our privacy. For example, data retention, the current government is trying to legislate that service providers retain data on web browsing and communications over quite a long period, but a current EU directive prohibits such data being retains unless consent is given (and the data is to be used for market research) or for longer than is required for billing purposes. It also requires service providers to anonymise all traffic, particularly when that traffic includes location information. There are more directives that prohibit cross-site cookie tracking, and cookies without consent, as well as direct email marketing where consent is not given.
So given that the Conservative government is currently trying to impose laws that directly contradict this, why would any of them want to stay 'in'? Well there's a few possibilities, some of which require the donning of a tinfoil hat. One could argue that being in the EU, with a special status, allows the government to ensure that sensitive UK data to remains protected whilst in transit around the EU, but the available for dissection whilst in the UK - this would only be legally possible if the investigatory powers bill is passed, and that the special status allows the UK to avoid certain directives as per:
The amending of EU treaties to state explicitly that references to the requirement to seek ever-closer union "do not apply to the United Kingdom", meaning Britain "can never be forced into political integration"
Similarly you could argue that it makes no mind in terms of what the establishment wants to do with our data whether we're in the EU or not and whether it's legal or not, because it's probably going to end up shared between them anyway - it wouldn't be the first time.
It's important to remember that the EU was incremental in rolling out 4G, and is currently working on an action plan to roll out 5G, not only that, but the EU has standardised mobile device charging, mandating that every mobile device be chargeable with a standard micro USB cable be 2017 - which means no more costly proprietary cables.
However, the key point here, conspiracies aside and gimmicks, is that the departure from the EU spells one thing and one thing only for the everyday fellow - consumers are no longer protected by the EU. The EU, as a collective, has nothing to gain from monitoring and data collection, the UK does.
From an Economical point of view there are pros and cons, the pros are quite apparent, the EU imposes trade laws that threaten certain technological companies. Only recently, investment trust specialists Herald moved their offices from London to New York following the MIFID directive (Markets In Financial Instruments Directive) which aims to increase transparency in stock brokering by separating the cost of share dealing from the cost of research which was - until this directive - often given for free. Because there is now an added cost for research when that research is being done in the EU, American companies are not coming to the UK, or considering it, when shopping for shares.
Not only does that loose businesses money, it losses the UK economy money, and let's be clear, the UK tech scene is big money, of the 40 technology companies in Europe valued at over 1 billion USD, 17 are British. Imagine if the money paid in tax by these companies went less to the EU, and more to the UK, it would allow for the UK to sustain and nurture it's tech industry and truly solidify it's place in the modern world.
As much as the EU may be driving some business away, it's protecting others. I've previously mentioned how new UK laws coming into effect are forcing technology companies from the UK, well that's the subject of a letter written by 47 companies, including Uber and AirBnB, to the EU - stop member states from legislating in ways that negatively affect business - such as ripping the security out of it, or raising taxes.
While we're on the subject of leaving the UK, it's important to highlight a statistic that a poll recently found, if the UK voted to leave, 41% of tech firms would consider leaving the nation. That's about 6.97 billion ripped out of the economy in one go.
After all of that, we have to consider the horrible reality of the situation too, the referendum is still a fair way away, and even after the first vote there'll probably be another - and that's assuming the first ever happens. The companies, tech and otherwise, can't wait that long. Running a business in limbo is no way to run a business, especially when it comes to resourcing. Forecasts predict that the tech industry in the UK will require an additional one million workers as of 2020 - and that's an extra one million what we don't have due to a stark skill gap when it comes to modern technology in comparison to other EU states. If we were to leave the EU, that leaves many UK businesses without the ability to easily recruit overseas talent from other European states - or in simpler terms - it leaves them without staff, and that's a situation they can't sit around and wait for, just on the off chance it does happen.
Personally, I think we should leave, for reasons that spread far beyond the realm of technology and into areas that I am far less qualified to talk about, but just from a tech point of view, we stand to loose more than we gain, in the battle between economical stability and personal data, I'm afraid there's a price on our privacy, and it's cheap.