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UK Tory Government Plans More Internet Regulation by Shane Warren

Berning Media’s previous article on Internet Freedom (link to first net neutrality article) outlined how Trump-appointed FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wants to allow ISPs to discriminate against whichever website they wish by slowing down how fast they stream into consumer households.

In concrete terms, this measure would allow wealthy corporations like Comcast to slow down the speed at which cable-substitutes like Netflix and Hulu can stream into our households. It would also allow those companies to charge exorbitant fees in exchange for high Internet streaming speeds. Independent publications like Berning Media could see the short end of the stick, as high-speed access is only given to companies that can foot the bill.

It’s pretty scary stuff.

Not to be outdone by her former colony,  the U.K Tory government has laid out a manifesto in which they insist the free and open internet be regulated by the government according to standards that “reflect those that govern our lives offline”.

In elaboration, the Manifesto also states that “It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is on the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.”

Now that we have their purported motives out of the way, it’s time to go into the policy. As it stands right now, the British Government already keeps every British citizen’s browsing history for up to a year. If the Tory’s get their way, here’s a few things that they’ll change about the Internet.

Pornography may be harder to find.

The Independent reports that the Tory’s put their desire to  “put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm” in their manifesto.”

Attempts to implement this may involve striking pornographic content from search engine indexes.

2. Government regulation of the media.

Internet regulation could be a legal proxy for regulating the press, or, as the Tory manifesto puts it, taking “steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy”. The Belfast Telegram reports that Failure to comply with whatever steps they take could make companies like Google and Facebook face heavy fines.

On the face, the rules seem like a government trying to respond to the advent of Fake News which misinforms public opinion and shifts elections based on unreality.

Diving deeper reveals a problem. With such a vague proposal in mind, you have to wonder, just what does “taking steps” to protect “objectivity” mean? Do we want the government to have the power to decide those things?

In the U.S, we don’t have to answer that question, because our Constitution conveniently guarantees freedom of the press. The U.K, however, does not have any kind of blanket protection. It’s up to their political system to decide how much government intervention in the press is necessary.

There’s no easy way to determine how much government regulation is necessary. Inaction on the fake news could lead to rule-by-unreality. Too much action could empower the government to create its own form of unreality that matches the interest of those in power.

Either way, some level of further government regulation for the media is likely coming for U.K citizens.

3. Internet Safety Education

The Tories aren’t just aiming at the news. They also want to make Internet safety a more widespread concept. To that end, Tory’s want to levy a fine on companies like Facebook to fund adverts which “support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms”

Unfortunately, this premise is essentially as vague as the last one.  Will “harms” be restricted to fraud, extremism, and deliberately fake news? Or will publications like Berning Media be considered part of “Internet Harms”? Right now, we don’t have an answer, and to me, that’s cause for worry.

4. Protection for Minors

Perhaps the best proposal by the Tories is a requirement that social media companies permanently delete content posted before the age of 18.

I like it the best because I know how it feels to look at things you posted at the age of 14 and wish you hadn’t done it in the first place.

My personal feelings, however, are not the only factor here. As legal minors, children are considered too young to be held accountable for their decisions. Despite this fact, their actions are posted at a growing rate as they’re memorialized for the world to see.

What used to be youthful indiscretions buried in personal memory are now personal branders for employers, associates, and potential friends to see. With that in mind, I think the ability to erase your childhood internet footprint is something that all citizens should be guaranteed. That being said, a mandatory deletion may be an overstep.

5. Expanded Surveillance

As far as surveillance goes, combating terrorism is one theme that isn’t going away anytime soon. The same Independent article mentioned earlier made that clear when it referenced the conservative manifesto’s stated desire to ensure that there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”.

This statement sounds nice but could be difficult to perfectly enforce without massive government access to encrypted communications.

Before concluding, it’s relevant to point out one significant difference between the Tories proposed policy and the potential abolition of net neutrality in the United States: In the U.K, the current threat to Internet freedom comes from potentially excessive government interference. In the United States, the current threat comes from a hands-off approach to governing that allows wealthy corporations to benefit themselves at the expense of the consumer as well as technological progress.

If we want to prevent these threats from coming to fruition, we have to take a step back from the big government vs. small government dichotomy and evaluate each decision based on whether or not it actually benefits the average citizen.

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