UK needs to understand that clamping down on the internet harms jobs, innovation, growth

The latest proposal shows the lack of understanding the UK Government and elected MPs have about the Internet and online material

Dominique Lazanski
On 29 March 2012 11:38

The latest in a long line of UK regulatory proposals and measures on the Internet was announced on Tuesday. In a report, the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions said the government should pass a law that requires search engines to filter and block restricted content.

This proposal continues to show the lack of understanding the UK Government and elected MPs have about the Internet and online material.

First, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and every other online company you can think of already cooperates with government and law enforcement in the UK and abroad. I have said this so many times over the last few years that I feel like a broken record.

All companies have to deal with notice and takedown as well as complaints and court injunctions. They all have large teams of legal and content people to deal with this.

I, for one, dealt with this kind of thing when I worked at Yahoo! many years ago. There is a misconception that a company like Google just "lets bad things happen". Well they don’t and if MPs aren’t getting the results that they want then maybe they should talk to the companies themselves.

Second, Google and Yahoo! are already in discussions with DCMS, rights holders and other stakeholders over search engine filtering. This process has been going on for well over a year now and it has been rather difficult, however the point is that companies and organizations continue to discuss what to do about a variety of content issues online.

It is a real shame that John Wittingdale MP and his committee seem to have no knowledge of this process. The committees report is further evidence of the continued lack of communication across Whitehall.

Third, we need to take a look at the bigger picture. The UK, along with over a hundred other countries, is renegotiating Internet treaties on telecommunication regulations through the International Telecommunications Union.

A number of countries are pushing for monitoring and filtering of content online for safety and security that will be managed and regulated through a UN body. The UK and the US are arguing that this kind of proscriptive regulation will harm innovation, growth, and freedom online.

It will. However, if the UK is trying to ensure freedom online at an International level, the UK needs to get its priorities straight and not limit freedom online at home.

And finally, legislative technical solutions to problems online will never end well. Active filtering of search engine content beyond what is already done will harm innovation and force Internet users to use software to go around the filtering and blocking.

Furthermore, the technology as it is now and the popular companies online right now change quickly over time. Remember Friendster? Or MySpace? Proposed legislation for a problem today will not address a problem tomorrow or in the future. There is a complete lack of understanding in Parliament with how technology changes and even what technology means.

The UK will always face issues with privacy. It is a big challenge to get the balance right between public and private information and the publication of that information. Introducing legislation for search engine content filtering is not the solution.

These proposals are akin to the Newspaper Stamp Tax of 1712 and 1815 that was aimed at limiting the distribution of information to the public. Calls for legislation may seem like the right solution in the short term, but the unintended consequences of a proscriptive legislation will impact future jobs, innovation and growth. I only wish someone in Parliament would understand this.

Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley and works for the Tax Payers' Alliance in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @dml

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