Strong emphasis has been placed on making the Internet safer for children but that’s just the tip of a much larger iceberg.
This week, the Government published its response to the Internet Safety Strategy green paper, stating unequivocally that more needs to be done to tackle “online harm”.
Noting that six out of ten people report seeing inappropriate or harmful content online, the Government said that work already underway with social media companies to protect users had borne fruit but overall industry response has been less satisfactory.
As a result, the Government will now carry through with its threat to introduce new legislation, albeit with the assistance of technology companies, children’s charities and other stakeholders.
“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better,” said Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the Wild West elements of the Internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.”
While emphasis is being placed on hot-button topics such as cyberbullying and online child exploitation, the Government is clear that it wishes to tackle “the full range” of online harms. That has been greeted by UK music group BPI with a request that the Government introduces new measures to tackle Internet piracy.
In a statement issued this week, BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor welcomed the move towards legislative change and urged the Government to encompass the music industry and beyond.
“This is a vital opportunity to protect consumers and boost the UK’s music and creative industries. The BPI has long pressed for internet intermediaries and online platforms to take responsibility for the content that they promote to users,” Taylor said.
“Government should now take the power in legislation to require online giants to take effective, proactive measures to clean illegal content from their sites and services. This will keep fans away from dodgy sites full of harmful content and prevent criminals from undermining creative businesses that create UK jobs.”
The BPI has published four initial requests, each of which provides food for thought.
The demand to “establish a new fast-track process for blocking illegal sites” is not entirely unexpected, particularly given the expense of launching applications for blocking injunctions at the High Court.
“The BPI has taken a large number of actions against individual websites – 63 injunctions are in place against sites that are wholly or mainly infringing and whose business is simply to profit from criminal activity,” the BPI says.
Those injunctions can be expanded fairly easily to include new sites operating under similar banners or facilitating access to those already covered, but it’s clear the BPI would like something more streamlined. Voluntary schemes, such as the one in place in Portugal, could be an option but it’s unclear how troublesome that could be for ISPs. New legislation could solve that dilemma, however.
Another big thorn in the side for groups like the BPI are people and entities that post infringing content. The BPI is very good at taking these listings down from sites and search engines in particular (more than 600 million requests to date) but it’s a game of whac-a-mole the group would rather not engage in.
With that in mind, the BPI would like the Government to impose new rules that would compel online platforms to stop content from being re-posted after it’s been taken down while removing the accounts of repeat infringers.
Thirdly, the BPI would like the Government to introduce penalties for “online operators” who do not provide “transparent contact and ownership information.” The music group isn’t any more specific than that, but the suggestion is that operators of some sites have a tendency to hide in the shadows, something which frustrates enforcement activity.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the BPI is calling on the Government to legislate for a new “duty of care” for online intermediaries and platforms. Specifically, the BPI wants “effective action” taken against businesses that use the Internet to “encourage” consumers to access content illegally.
While this could easily encompass pirate sites and services themselves, this proposal has the breadth to include a wide range of offenders, from people posting piracy-focused tutorials on monetized YouTube channels to those selling fully-loaded Kodi devices on eBay or social media.
Overall, the BPI clearly wants to place pressure on intermediaries to take action against piracy when they’re in a position to do so, and particularly those who may not have shown much enthusiasm towards industry collaboration in the past.
“Legislation in this Bill, to take powers to intervene with respect to operators that do not co-operate, would bring focus to the roundtable process and ensure that intermediaries take their responsibilities seriously,” the BPI says.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Home Office will now work on a White Paper, to be published later this year, to set out legislation to tackle “online harms”. The BPI and similar entities will hope that the Government takes their concerns on board.