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Government sets out further details of Digital Charter

The government’s charter aims to tackle challenges and risks brought by technology in “an effective and responsible way”, thereby boosting the digital economy

The government has published the details of its Digital Charter, aiming to ensure the UK is “the safest place to be online”, and a place where tech businesses can thrive.

The charter – which was originally announced in the Queen’s speech last year, and then again yesterday (26 January) by prime minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum in Davos – is an ongoing project to “agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice”.

A policy paper on the charter said its core purpose was to make the internet work for citizens, businesses and society as a whole.

“These are challenges with which every nation is grappling. The internet is a global network and we will work with other countries that share both our values and our determination to get this right,” the paper said.

Speaking in Davos yesterday, the prime minister called on tech companies to “go further in stepping up to their responsibilities for dealing with harmful and illegal online activity”. 

She criticised the social media giants for not doing enough to stop paedophiles and terrorists from using their platforms, adding that seven out of 10 people surveyed do not believe social media companies are doing enough to prevent the sharing of extreme content.

TechUK CEO Julian David said that although tech firms may not always agree with government on the means, there was no disagreement on the objective to make online platforms hostile environments for illegal and inappropriate content.

The charter said the internet “can be used to spread terrorist material; it can be a tool for abuse and bullying; and it can be used to undermine civil discourse, objective news and intellectual property”.

“Citizens rightly want to know that they will be safe and secure online. Tackling these challenges in an effective and responsible way is critical for digital technology to thrive,” it said.

The government envisions the charter as being an evolving programme, developed together with the tech sector, businesses and civil society. It will be guided by a set of principles that include respecting and using personal data appropriately, making sure people understand the rules that apply to them when they’re online and putting in place protections to keep people safe online.

TechUK’s David said the tech sector fully supports the objectives of the charter. “There is much that we can achieve working together with government on shared problems. Rapid and effective progress will depend upon genuine and open dialogue,” he said.

“We have to ensure that proposed solutions are practical and deliverable, and never lose sight of the twin objectives to have the world’s safest and most successful digital economy. The economic and social potential to the UK is huge, and as a sector we are committed to helping deliver that promise.”

Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) secretary of state Matt Hancock said the internet was a “powerful force for good”, but that there were clear challenges and “we need to protect people from the potential harms”.

“Our Digital Charter responds to this challenge and through it we will agree new standards for online behaviour to make sure the UK continues to be an innovation-friendly digital economy and haven for tech investment,” he said.

Alongside the charter, the government is also creating a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which it hopes will “ensure safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI [artificial intelligence] and data-driven technologies”.

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