Tuesday 19th March 2019

British lawmakers are considering ‘regulating the internet’

The House of Lords Communications Committee has heard evidence from witnesses on 'regulating the internet.' Google has stated the internet is 'far from the wild west some claim it is.'
Jason Smith
by on 28th June 2018

British Parliamentarians are discussing whether to “regulate the internet” and have begun collecting evidence from invested parties about whether it’s feasible to do so and what such a regulation would look like.

To date, nearly 100 organizations have submitted evidence to the House of Lords, which is the fully appointed chamber of the UK’s bicameral legislature, including Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Microsoft, The BBC and Airbnb.

All of the evidence submitted is available to read online and the deadline for new submissions has now passed.

There have so far been two evidence gathering sessions held by the House of Lords Communications Committee, both of which took place on 19th June.

During one of the sessions, committee chair Lord Gilbert declared “regulating the internet” to be a “very broad” topic and questioned the witnesses on whether they believe “there’s a need to introduce a new regulatory framework for the internet” and what form it should take e.g. “imposed regulation, self-regulation or co-regulation”.

He also questioned whether a new regulatory authority would be required to enforce a new regulation or co-ordinate the work of existing regulators.

Jenny Afia, a Partner at law firm Schillings, doesn’t believe new regulation is required, however she states she has become more amenable to it over the last few years.

She also cited the General Data Protection Regulation, The Data Protection Act and an improvement in industry standards around user privacy, e.g. new operating systems from organizations like Apple and new policies around bullying instituted by Instagram, as examples of why “we have sufficient regulation.”

She then stated that “the problem is it’s all a little reactive and piecemeal.”

Meanwhile Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy LLP, pointed to other regulations, notably NetzDG, a German law that tackles online hate speech, to articulate the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of internet regulation.

Stephens stated that seven out of 10 legal experts in the Bundestag are criticizing the law and “top legal academics” argue the “law is not achieving its objective, promotes overbroad blocking and has passed the responsibility to prosecute criminal offences from the Government to the private sector, of course with a chilling effect on private speech.”

He also stated that “legislation can often be slow and cumbersome” and noted the necessity of “[looking] at [the] word ‘regulation’, because it can mean a wide spectrum of arrangements between…relevant actors.”

In evidence submitted to the committee, Google states, “It is important to note from the outset that the internet is far from the ‘wild west’ some claim it is and the current publisher vs platform debate is oversimplified.”

It also went onto note, “We operate in an environment where extensive regulation of online content and actions already exists and is being enforced” and that it believes “the current framework provides a robust regime for responsibility and action, whilst also protecting a free and open internet.”