3.10.05

Internet regulation best left to industry

Ofcom boss Stephen Carter considers self-regulation to be the way forward for controlling online content.
In an interview with The Times (see Timesonline HERE) he acknowledges that the time has come to address how best to control what gets published on the internet.

The EU is keen to bring in legislative measures to provide for cross-border controls over content. As with any attempt by the EU to legislate across its territories, this is likely to be fraught with complexities and take far too much time. The problem with any attempt to legislate for the net is that by the time a law gets agreed, drafted and passed, the technololgy will have moved on and a raft of new issues will have emerged.

Whether its porn or paedophiles, its the people the laws need to target as much as their medium. The net has given them a vastly extended neighbourhood but it still takes the person to commit the crime. Similarly, less heinous illegal activity such as downloading is made possible via the net but it still takes the person to do the downloading. So going down a route of introducing draconian laws to clamp down on the net is more likely to stifle good things than successfully capture and prosecute the bad.

While the net may make cross-border cybercrime easier, it does not provide an excuse to extend existing laws beyond their natural boundaries. This was tested in the context of online libel in a Canadian case last week - which Siobhain Butterworth, legal director of Guardian Newspapers describes in her article The not so world wide web (well worth a read)

So, while Ofcom may have enough on its plate, Carter sees sense in adopting a self-regulatory approach. It makes sense that those providing the technology and content can come up with ways of dealing with it. At the end of the day it makes more sense for content providers and ISPs to properly police themselves. This will give their law-abiding users confidence in their service while keeping the unwelcome spectre of ill-fitting legislation at bay. As with any community, there will always be unwelcome criminals but the technology they use to perpetrate their crime is also provides the trail to trap them.

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