‘Dereliction Of Duty’: Tech Firms Face Tougher Rules, London Mayor Warns

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Twitter, Facebook and others must take on a ‘stronger duty of care’ or face tighter state controls, Sadiq Khan is to say at South by Southwest

London mayor Sadiq Khan is to take the stage at the South by Southwest technology, music and media event on Monday to warn tech giants they must better regulate themselves if they wish to avoid tougher state controls.

Khan is the first British politician to speak at the event, following in the footsteps of the likes of Barack Obama.

He is to emphasise some of the negative effects of the current relative lack of regulation, which he will term a “dereliction of duty” on the part of politicians, according to a preview of his speech.

Those effects include the spread of hate speech online, and Khan is expected to read out some of the racist and abusive tweets he has received since taking office.

‘Further and faster’

“Social media platforms already have a legal obligation to remove content that breaks local laws,” he is to say. “But this is not always happening, or happening quickly enough. With the skills and resources these companies have at their disposal, I believe it’s possible to go further and faster.”

The burden is on lawmakers to ensure technology develops in a way that benefits society, something that currently isn’t the case, Khan is to say.

“There’s been a dereliction of duty on the part of politicians and policymakers to ensure that the rapid growth in technology is utilised and steered in a direction that benefits us all,” he will say.

But tech companies must also play by the rules, he will say: “No business or industry should ever consider itself above the local rules, or laws set by democratic processes.”

Using the example of Uber, Khan is to warn that new economic models risk “being used as cover to break up decades of established and hard-fought rights”.

“We can’t confuse matters by thinking that because a business is smart, disruptive, popular even – and has a really neat app – it somehow has a right to have a different regulatory status to its competitors,” Khan will say.

Regulation ahead?

Khan’s speech isn’t the first at South by Southwest to play on themes that are unpopular within the high-tech world. Obama’s talk two years ago, for instance, called for back doors to be built into communications devices so that government agents could access encrypted messages.

But Khan has said he doesn’t intend to come across as hostile to innovation within the industry.

Instead, he has explained he wants to avoid stronger state-imposed regulations along the lines of Germany’s hate-speech regulations, which can impose fines of up to €50 million (£36m) if illegal messages aren’t removed quickly enough.

“What I don’t want is a situation where we end up where Germany’s ended up where because their citizens don’t feel protected they’re taking this sort of action,” Khan told the BBC.

That can only happen if Facebook, Twitter and others take on a “stronger duty of care”, he will say in the keynote.

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