Government Considers Creating A Regulator For The Internet

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Evil parliament (c) pisaphotography, Shutterstock 2014

The government has said it is ‘considering all options’ for internet governance, including a new regulatory body along the lines of Ofcom

The government has said it is considering options including a new internet regulator as part of planned rules aimed at bodies such as social networks.

Previously it has said it plans to publish a white paper later this year outlining proposed reforms to laws applicable to internet firms.

In July, a cross-party committee investigating online misinformation and propaganda proposed laws including changes to electoral law, taxes on social networks to pay for literacy programmes in schools and new requirements for transparency in online advertising.

But the white paper may go as far as proposing a new regulator along the lines of Ofcom, whose remit would cover internet content.

‘Social harms’

BuzzFeed News said it had seen documents outlining such a regulatory body, which would hold tech firms liable for content published on their platforms and require illegal material and militant content to be taken down within hours.

The legislation reportedly being drafted by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would create a regulatory framework for “social harms” propagated online.

The plans are reportedly at the development stage and are to be put out for consultation later this year.

The government confirmed it is considering “all options”, including a regulator.

“This winter we will publish a white paper setting out new laws to tackle the full range of online harms and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe,” the government said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed. “We are considering all options, including what legislation will be necessary and whether a regulator is needed.”

The proposals also reportedly include requiring social networks to verify users’ ages,  sanctions for social networks that fail to remove militant or illegal content within hours, and restrictions on online advertisements for food and drink products that are high in salt, fat or sugar.

The DMCS declined to provide additional comment other than to say that the report was speculation.

Regulatory approach

UK and EU government bodies have placed increased pressure on internet companies over the rapid removal of illegal and extremist material this year, following attacks in European capitals in recent months.

The UK’s proposals, as reported, bear a close similarity to measures announced by the European Commission earlier this month.

Those measures, set to be proposed later in September, include legislation forcing internet forms to remove militant content within an hour of being notified about it.

The move, announced at a press conference, follows the Commission’s ultimatum in March that it would give internet companies three months to show that they were improving their content removal processes, or face legislation.

Up to now the Commission has taken a relatively hands-off approach, allowing firms to police themselves under a voluntary code of conduct.

‘Too serious a threat’

But European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the Commission had decided it was “too serious a threat and risk for European people” to rely on self-regulation.

The Commission added that while large companies such as Facebook and Google had shown progress on speedy removal of dangerous online materials, legislation was necessary to ensure the compliance of smaller and medium-sized social platforms.

Similar arguments are made around the introduction of the proposed UK internet regulator, according to BuzzFeed’s report.

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