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Internet Companies Call For Further Scrutiny Of Online Harms White Paper Before Introducing Legislation

“The White Paper is a real opportunity to get regulation right. Our submission today marks the beginning of a constructive process with government. ”

Daniel Dyball, UK Executive Director

Longdon, UK – Internet Association (IA) today submitted a formal consultation response to the government’s Online Harms White Paper. The response details the industry’s commitment to working constructively with government and highlights a number of ways in which the White Paper can be improved.

There are a number of positive elements in the White Paper that should be welcomed, including its emphasis on digital literacy that will help people develop the skills to safely navigate the online world, and the overall vision of ensuring a free, open and secure internet.

Commenting on the submission, IA’s UK Executive Director Daniel Dyball said: “IA supports balanced, proportionate regulation which achieves everyone’s objectives of keeping people safe online, while also ensuring that the internet continues to deliver benefits to the economy and society. While there are a number of areas in the White Paper that are of significant concern, we stand ready to work with government to ensure that the services that the public love and rely on can continue to operate while ensuring harms are tackled effectively.”

In its submission, IA suggests a number of recommendations for the government as it considers next steps on the White Paper, including: 

  • Ensuring that proposals are based around a list of identified and specific harms, with a clear evidence base of harm and a quantified regulatory impact assessment of best practice in reducing risk.
  • Asking the government to publish its legal advice on the compatibility of the White Paper with the e-Commerce Directive, and seeking guarantees that UK regulation will not undermine intermediary liability protections.
  • Asking the government to undertake a full regulatory impact assessment of the White Paper proposals, covering the economic impact (particularly the impact on SMEs and start-ups) and impacts on freedom of expression and privacy.
  • Calling on the government to take ‘the time necessary to consider these complex policy and social issues fully’ and a suggestion that ‘the government should commit to undertaking formal pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill’.

IA’s submission also outlines a number of concerns with the White Paper proposals. They include the risk that the enforcement regime is likely to have a negative effect on internet innovation and freedom of expression – with the current proposals going beyond what is necessary to ensure compliance. There is also a risk that in practice, the only way to meet many of the demands of the new obligations will be through general monitoring.The internet has flourished in part because platforms permit users to post and share information without fear that those platforms will be held liable for third-party content. Dilution of intermediary liability protections would encourage internet companies to engage in over-censorship for fear of being held liable for content, with a consequential impact on freedom of speech.

Dyball continued: “The White Paper is a real opportunity to get regulation right. Our submission today marks the beginning of a constructive process with government. Internet companies are committed to continuing our work with government to ensure that any new regulation can co-exist with a thriving internet sector.”

To read the full submission click here.