Regulating the Internet
Will the Internet be allowed to develop as a completely unfettered medium, or will telecom and content regulators from government and industry play a major role in overseeing what happens? Opinion is divided. Almost three-quaters of the population would like to see some form of regulation but most people are unsure how it can be done.
Whichever way the dust settles on this issue, the tension between free and regulated flow of online information will continue to spark heated debates amongst academics, policymakers, entrepreneurs and activists across the globe.
Early in the new year, the Commission is to arrange a seminar to discuss the issue of
Internet content regulation, as its contribution to the debate.
Within the review of broadcasting regulation in the UK, the rapidly expanding use of the Internet plays a critical part. In its response to the Government’s green paper on the regulation of the communications industry, the Broadcasting Standards Commission called the Internet “a cross between a tribal notice board, an information exchange, a library, a chat line, an entertainment centre, a shopping and banking hall, and a post box..” In the Commission’s view it would be impractical to seek to apply the same regulatory requirements to what are essentially private applications as opposed to those which are public.
With its experience in the regulation of content, the Commission is frequently asked to contribute to conferences and seminars on Internet issues. This edition of Briefing
Update seeks to outline some of the issues for both the present and the future. A review written for the Commission by Madan Rao takes a broad view and this is followed by a consideration of regulatory issues with respect to the protection of children.
Surfing the issues by Madan Rao
Perhaps the biggest challenge for national policymakers dealing with the Internet comes from the convergence it makes possible. Issues relating to the Internet economy necessarily involve inputs from the departments of trade or commerce, broadcast and print media, the telecommunications and electronics industries, education departments, national security and policing, consumer groups, and the private sector. Incorporating and addressing all their concerns within a comprehensive economic framework is a major challenge for many societies, particularly when faced with pressures of investing in more basic citizen and social services.
However, free-speech advocates in the US and elsewhere argue that a global ratings system could invite action by governments that goes beyond this harmful or illegal content and would include restrictive laws to force publishers to rate themselves, punishment for those who misrated their content, or indeed censorship.
Key decision areas facing policy makers include intellectual property rights on the Net, cyberlaw (eg.
Internet taxation, digital certificate authorities, online crime), universal access to the Net, Internet telephony, and online content. This article focuses on three key areas pertaining to online content regulation: concerns for children, national culture, and on-line publishing models.
The challenge from abroad
Concerns for children
Despite the vast educational potential of the Net, fears persist regarding the presence of content which could have a harmful effect on children using the
Internet, especially sex, nudity, violence and language.
These concerns have led to a number of international initiatives to co-ordinate hotlines for reporting illegal or harmful material. In Europe the Internet Watch
Foundation is leading some of this work. Multilateral organisations like the United Nations and Interpol have held numerous international conferences to track and counter the use of the Internet for child pornography and child prostitution.
One practical response has been the U.S. based