Politicians must not meddle in any online regulator, web safety expert warns

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Politicians have been warned not to interfere in the work of any potential internet regulator, in the lead up to the release of a Government White Paper that will address online harms next week.

The long-awaited plans are set to be unveiled on Monday (April 8), aimed at tackling a range of issues including cyberbullying, revenge porn, hate speech, as well as access to material relating to suicide and terrorism.

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Likely measures to make tech giants and social networks more accountable for the content on their platforms have been widely welcomed, though an internet safety expert has stressed that any regulatory body tasked with overseeing the internet should be left to carefully carry out duties with complete independence.

“There should be no political involvement with how the internet is managed - the laws should be clear, the rules should be clear, but politicians shouldn’t be anywhere near it,” said John Carr, secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety and a senior expert adviser to the UN.

“I see in the report that the Government are likely to take a power to ask the regulator to look at particular issues, that’s fine, but politicians making decisions about internet content and detailed questions of how to manage the internet? No, that’s undesirable.

“The key thing is the regulator has to be demonstrably independent of Government and has to be populated by trusted people with a lot of technical knowledge.”

According to reports, Ofcom could be nominated as regulator to oversee online harms, though a new body could be set up in the future.

“My understanding is they may incubate the new regulator within Ofcom, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will end up being there, so we’ll have to see,” Mr Carr added.

“We’re the first country to basically paint on a blank canvass, so there’s going to be a lot of focus on and attention on how exactly this pans out, so I don’t imagine it’s going to be quick because it’s so important.”

TechUK, the country’s technology trade association, said the White Paper should be clear in defining its intentions: “It is vital that we get the detail right so that we have an approach that is clear, effective and proportionate.

“Digital platforms and social media now play a huge part in all our lives and make a significant contribution to the success of the UK’s digital economy.

“We share the Government’s ambition to reduce harms where they exist, particularly for vulnerable users.

“To provide a workable blueprint for effective regulation the White Paper will have to tackle some challenging issues head on.”

Earlier today, Home Secretary Sajid Javid met with G7 leaders to discuss how to combat disturbing and dangerous effects of harmful online content, in response to the mosque attack in Christchurch which was livestreamed via Facebook.

“The close partnership we have with our international G7 partners is vital in combating the shared threats we face and keeping our people secure,” Mr Javid said.

“Britain will continue to be a global leader in this space and ensure our expertise makes the world a safer place.”