“Some people say that it is not for Government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree”. So begins “A FRAMEWORK FOR DATA AND THE DIGITAL ECONOMY” on page 84 of the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto. And how does the manifesto see this lofty goal being accomplished?
“So we will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles. We will introduce a sanctions régime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law”.
They weren’t finished: “We will also create a power in law for Government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry”. The gambling industry. You read that right.
“Just as we led the world in regulating embryology thirty years ago, we know that if we create the right system of governance for the digital economy and use of data, we will attract the right businesses who want to become the global centre for data use and research”. Thus the final delusion of Theresa May and her obedient followers.
Those who look in regularly on Zelo Street will need no reminder of the tendency of our free and fearless press to demand the highest standards of the New Media, while refusing to have the Government go anywhere near placing anything resembling regulation upon them. These proposals could, like the Tories’ abject proposal to drop Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, have been written for them by the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate.
Hardly a week goes by without the shock troops of the tabloid media launching another assault on Google, or Facebook, or anyone else who has incurred their displeasure. But the idea of self-regulation for online content providers is Streng Verboten for Team Theresa. That luxury is only to be permitted for their pals in the press.
But this is not merely a case of rank hypocrisy: the idea that the Internet is like the evolution of embryology research is delusional in the extreme. How will these new laws be enforced against companies based in other jurisdictions? Do the Tories expect to be able to tell Governments in the USA and China how they should proceed?
How will those services be shut out of the UK? Do the Tories and their press pals intend to indulge in censorship? They wouldn’t be adopting double standards, would they? But enough. This is, once again, the disproportionate influence of the press barons and their interventionist editors, sourly resentful at losing so much advertising revenue to the likes of Facebook, but still possessing enough influence to bend the ear of Tory technophobes.
The idea that a future Tory Government could police the internet from the UK is laughable. All that proposals like this will do is to guarantee that digital jobs migrate to other, marginally less authoritarian countries. Then, Team Theresa will be able to repent at leisure after following the word of the false press prophets.