Digital Freedom Groups Caution UK on Content Regulation

The Open Technology Institute and Electronic Frontier Foundation want the UK to clarify just how they are going to regulate online content, concerned a proposal to do so is too broad and not sufficiently clear.

OTI and EFF teamed up on comments Wednesday (July 3) to the British Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sports on the department's proposed Online Harms Framework outlined in a White Paper back in April.

The public comment period was up this week, after which the UK government will publish its response here. 

The White Paper talked of the importance of protecting free expression online, but also said the country had to take "decisive action" to make people "safer" online, including establishing a statutory "duty of care."

Going what it said was far beyond self regulation, the paper outlined a "system of accountability and oversight for tech companies" overseen by an independent regulator setting clear safety standards, requiring reporting and having effective enforcement powers.

OTI and EFF praised the commitment to safeguarding free expression--transparency and an appeal process--they suggested more clarity was needed on how the framework would guard against abuse, and perhaps how it could be used to incentivize self-regulation "without pushing [companies] to adopt practices that might ultimately harm user rights. They urged the British government not to crate rules requiring internet platforms to "interfere" with encrypted messaging services since encryption is "vital" to protecting privacy and free expression.

That means no rules that mandate social media or tech companies to "re-filter" or monitor privacy communications.

Explaining what it meant by abuse, the pair said that those complaining about certain content could "organize to present a complaint in the worst light possible, or complain in such numbers, or so frequently, that an unjust takedown of a particular victim’s account or their content may inevitably occur."

OTI backers represent an eclectic mix, from Google and the U.S. State Department to Walmart and former MTV president Tom Freston. EFF advisers include lawyers, academics and technologists focused on online content and digital rights issues.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.