MPs call for new online privacy laws

MPs have called for a Green Paper to give consumers greater protection of their personal information both online and offline.

The Green...

MPs have called for a Green Paper to give consumers greater protection of their personal information both online and offline.

The Green Paper should set out plainly "far-reaching" protection for privacy, members of the All Party Parliamentary Communications group (apComms) said. "People need effective protection and they need to understand the nature of that protection," the group said.

The MPs are calling on government to simplify the conflicting protection for personal privacy online and offline. Complexity "is not an ideal way to provide a legal base for privacy", said MP Derek Wyatt, chairman of apComms.

Wyatt said behaviourally targeted advertising was closely tied to privacy. He predicted privacy would become a "very big issue" over the next five years, especially if it was not addressed now.

ISPs had to do more to counteract abuses of the internet that threatened to undermine its development as part of the social fabric, the MPs said.

The committee confirmed that consumers should have to opt in to receive advertising based on their online behaviour. This was especially so for children. Consumers should also have explicit information about the precise use of their data before they signed up, they said.

MPs wanted lessons on eSafety included in the core school curriculum for key stages one to four, and for the government to ensure they were kept up to date.

They suggested that network operators and retailers work together on putting eSafety on mobile phones. Ofcom should insist that all mobile access devices were fitted with child protection filters, the said.

MPs said government should resist the temptation to pass laws to force ISPs to block websites that the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) listed as sources of material that indicated child sexual abuse and incited racial hatred.

Legislation would block efforts to develop self-regulation and would be counter-productive, they said. Instead, they suggested that government push to extend the IWF's model to the rest of the world.

MPs recommended that Ofcom assess "net neutrality" as part of its annual review. Net neutrality refers to ISPs' capacity to discriminate against consumers on cost, access and network use because of their choice of content and application.

Ofcom should make ISPs say what minimum network speeds they guaranteed, MPs said. Without a minimum figure, consumers had no recourse when their service degraded, they said.

MPs also wanted ISPs to detect and deal with malware-infected machines voluntarily. This would help stop end user machines from becoming part of botnets and sources of malware, they said.

They also wanted the law changed so that ISPs could block servers that hosted "inappropriate content" without facing legal penalties.

This comments came at a conference to report and discuss the findings of apComms' enquiry "Can we keep out hands off the Net?" The committee had received 45 written submissions and heard evidence in three oral sessions in reply to questions about online privacy, behavioural advertising, internet service providers' role in stopping "bad" traffic, and how to stop websites that offer child sexual abuse.

Wyatt said MPs wanted to suspend the debate on how to stop illegal file-sharing until the new European Union Telecoms Package was finalised, and to fit in with that.

Read more on IT legislation and regulation