Future of internet regulation is focus of Lords inquiry

Inquiry will seek evidence on whether or not the law is up to the job of regulating online platforms such as Facebook, and what improvements can be made

The House of Lords Communications Committee has opened an inquiry exploring the possibility of internet regulation in the UK, seeking input around issues such as the legal liability of online platforms for the content they host and how they moderate it, and how user data is protected.

The inquiry comes as platforms such as Facebook continue to draw public hostility for its role in enabling the activities of Cambridge Analytica, the data science firm at the heart of ongoing allegations of exploiting the data of Facebook users to influence the EU referendum campaign and the 2016 US presidential election. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is currently running its own investigation into the matter.

“The internet has transformed the way we interact with one another and how we consume services and information,” said committee chair Stephen Gilbert, Lord Gilbert of Panteg. “However, in its recent inquiries, the Communications Committee has heard that the internet has become a platform for illegal and inappropriate behaviour, such as hate speech, the misuse of personal data and fraud.

“We wish to build on our earlier work to explore how the internet could be better regulated. This might be through better self-regulation and it might be through specific legislation. The committee would like to hear views on whether a new regulatory framework is now desirable for the internet and encourage all those that can inform the inquiry to contribute.”

The committee will explore how regulation of the internet can be improved, and whether specific regulation is needed or existing laws are up to the job.

It will ask questions around how effective, fair and transparent platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are in moderating the content they host; the role that platform users should play in building online community standards for content and behaviour; measures that platforms might adopt to ensure safety and protect legitimate freedom of expression and information; what information platforms provide to users about their use of personal data; how platforms could be more transparent about some of their practices, such as the use of algorithms; the impact of a small number of dominant platforms in certain markets; and the effect of Brexit on regulation and data policy.

Read more about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

There is currently no specific body that regulates the internet in the UK. Instead, a number of statutory and non-governmental bodies, such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the ICO and Ofcom, take responsibility for online advertising standards, online data protection and privacy, and online streaming services, respectively.

Last year’s Internet Safety Strategy green paper and the January 2018 Digital Charter both signalled that the UK government hopes to establish clearer norms and rules for the online world, and that updated laws and regulations might be a consequence of this.

The call for written evidence deadline will be 11 May 2018, with oral evidence sessions running from now through to September. The committee said it intends to report its findings towards the end of 2018.

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