The Conservative Manifesto for the 2017 UK General Election was released on Thursday. Towards the end of the 88 page document, appearing after more pressing issues such as Brexit and the economy, came a section on technology and the Internet.
In that section, a sentence about the Internet and governments role in its regulation has many tech blogs on edge…
Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.
The sentence highlights the vision that a Conservative government would have when it comes to its control over the Internet and how the British people use it. Buzzfeed News notes –
[It] could have an enormous impact on how Britons use the internet in the future.
It has reignited an on-going controversy about a government’s role concerning privately owned technology companies and an ownerless Internet.
What would increased government regulation over the Internet and technology industry mean?
Firstly, it would mean that the government could more effectively force software companies operating in the UK to comply with any number of different regulations they come up with. If those software companies fail to comply, then the government could inflict punitive action on those companies, such as regulatory fines. The government could even potentially force ISP’s to block British people from accessing those company’s services, much like it already has done to a number of sites known to distribute pirated videos.
For example, the government could prevent Google from linking to pornography websites. Or they could force Facebook or web hosts to remove certain types of content.
Secondly, we have the on-going encryption vs. surveillance debate, with the government wanting easier and quicker access to our personal data and accounts, as well as forcing technology companies to provide a “backdoor” into the online accounts and devices of their users. The argument for this is national security.
The government already has substantial access to our browsing history with the Investigatory Powers Act that is now law, which forces ISP’s to keep records of (and hand over is requested) information pertaining to an individual’s Internet history. Increased regulation in the technology industry can now extend to our online accounts, where services like WhatsApp and devices like Apple’s iPhone could be forced to weaken security by including “backdoor” access for the government if they should need it.
Just as much control in our online world as our offline world
The Conservative manifesto pulls no punches. The incumbent political party wants just as much control over British people when they’re online as they do when they’re offline.
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 in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.
Of course, the above sounds great on the paper the manifesto is printed on. But as is always the case when proposing increased regulation online, the real question is at what cost?
How much access to our personal data does the government need to meet these objectives, and how much of our Internet privacy do we have to give up? How much control does the government need to impose on technology companies to meet these objectives and what penalties can be inflicted upon them?
The Pros and Cons
The pros of increased regulation and control by a government can include increased safety and a better handle on national security. It will afford citizens certain rights such as the ability to force companies to remove information they posted when under the age of 18, and it could become an incentive for social media websites – namely Facebook – to take a more serious and proactive approach to the safety and well-being of their users.
But the cons can include increased censorship as companies could be forced comply with what the government decides is acceptable and unacceptable speech, or worse, companies could adopt even stricter censorship rules to ensure they don’t fall foul of UK government regulation. And of course the continued erosion of our privacy and security by what many dub a “totalitarian Big Brother state”, as governments can effectively force companies to both hand over information about us or even force them to weaken their security making us more vulnerable to surveillance, whether its government sponsored or not.
Do you think the Internet needs increased or decreased government regulation? Let us know.