Gov't Committee: UK Should Move To Holding Platforms Liable For Third-Party Content Post-Brexit

from the stop-trying-to-help,-you-idiots dept

Going Brexit is to swear off logic, apparently. TorrentFreak reports that, in addition to everything else the UK’s newfound independence will muck up, it’s going to start doing an even more horrendous job policing the internet.

The protection offered by the E-Commerce Directive is a hot topic right now, one which necessarily involves the UK. However, with the UK due to leave the EU at 11pm local time on Friday 29 March, 2019, it will then be free to make its own laws. It’s now being suggested that as soon as Brexit happens, the UK should introduce new laws that hold tech companies liable for “illegal content” that appears on their platforms.

The advice can be found in a new report published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Titled “Intimidation in Public Life”, the report focuses on the online threats and intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates and others.

The report summary, thankfully, puts all the bad news up front. Following a list of (terrible) recommendations, the report quotes government officials wringing their hands about the fact terrible people exist.

Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee, said:

This level of vile and threatening behaviour, albeit by a minority of people, against those standing for public office is unacceptable in a healthy democracy. We cannot get to a point where people are put off standing, retreat from debate, and even fear for their lives as a result of their engagement in politics. This is not about protecting elites or stifling debate, it is about ensuring we have a vigorous democracy in which participants engage in a responsible way which recognises others’ rights to participate and to hold different points of view.

Lord Bew’s beef should be with “vile and threatening minority of people,” rather than platforms. But of course it isn’t. Like many government officials, Bew believes the liable party should be the host of the offending content, rather than the actual offenders. The Committee wants to handle questionable content in the most ineffectual and dangerous way possible:

Government should bring forward legislation to shift the liability of illegal content online towards social media companies.

And if that’s not dumb enough, there’s this recommendation which is sure to have a damaging effect on political speech — normally the sort of things governments should strive to protect.

Government should consult on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners.

Cool. A brand new #PoliticalLivesMatter law that won’t be abused by every thin-skinned politician who finds criticism intimidating.

And that’s not all. As TorrentFreak notes, the report also suggests adding new intermediary liability for things having nothing to do with “intimidation in public life.”

“Currently, social media companies do not have liability for the content on their sites, even where that content is illegal. This is largely due to the EU E-Commerce Directive (2000), which treats the social media companies as ‘hosts’ of online content. It is clear, however, that this legislation is out of date,” the report reads.

If this goes through, platforms could be held liable for IP infringement and defamation, even though those acts were committed by platform users.

Fortunately, these are still just recommendations. There’s no telling how this all will work out when the UK’s divorce is official. But past actions by the UK government hardly raise hope it won’t decide to go after the largest targets, rather than the proper targets, when finally free of EU regulations.

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Comments on “Gov't Committee: UK Should Move To Holding Platforms Liable For Third-Party Content Post-Brexit”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I do not understand what they hope to accomplish with their regressive desires. So, let’s go back to the 1800s when everything was great … what is gained by doing so? Does every CEO get a brand new yacht? .. a brand new mansion? .. they get to sexually harass with impunity? .. they get to walk down main street murdering people? I don’t get it. I think they are shooting themselves in the foot and do not even realize it yet.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re assuming that they’re thinking long-term. The modern way of business is to only care about the next quarter. If a massive profit can be made now, at the expense of burning the company to the ground within the next decade, the modern CEO will take the windfall. The shareholders will be happy in the short term, and the CEO will probably be long gone (with a golden parachute to boot) by the time the damage is clear.

Same here. Most of the people who stand to profit now will be in the ground before the real consequences will be felt, and they will probably feel them last anyway as they’ve hoarded the resources everyone else could use to mend things.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The real consequences have already kicked in, PaulT. We’ve had EU nationals booted out, my wages frozen, the Euro:GBP has gone up so buying presents for my family costs more…

Seriously, don’t get me started. Show me one, just one Brexiter who’s done any research apart from reading the right wing press or joined the name-calling brigade. There are none. The ones who claim they looked stuff up are hand-waving away legitimate concerns and singing Rule Britannia on their way to pick up a copy of the Daily Fail or worse, The Sun. Someone needs to tell these fools that Rupert Murdoch also owns the Financial Times, which doesn’t exactly have a sunny outlook on the biggest national disaster since WWII.

I’ve not even started on the impact on my native Ireland but the petty Little Englanders who voted for this nonsense have barely given it a glance. Morons, one and all.

Of course, if you dare to question their cherished project, the response will invariably invoke the will of the people as expressed last year. Yes, but the people are changing their minds. I just wish I could show you the photos I took of Bolton town centre, where a good fifth of the shops are closed and boarded up. “Retail opportunities” my rear. Nobody has any spare cash to spend in a consumer economy.

/End rant.

That One Guy (profile) says:

That's sure to help

If they think that politicians are on the receiving end of vitriolic language and treatment now, just wait for the reaction they’ll face when major companies are faced with legal penalties for not stopping ‘bad people’ and/or being held accountable for copyright infringement by their users and decide to pull out of the country entirely.

I’m sure the massive numbers of people who are faced with a ‘Due to legal actions by the UK government it is no longer viable for us to offer service in your country’ message will be positively giddy to share their resulting joy with the politicians who drove the companies out.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well of course not, the number of streets is enormous, they have neither the resources nor people to actively monitor each and every one of them to make sure that anyone who acts poorly is properly caught and punished in a quick and timely manner. Really, how insane would it be to hold the street owners liable for the actions of those that use them, especially at that scale? Positively nuts.

I’m not entirely sure why you went on that tangent though, I mean what possible link could that have to online platforms and the quite reasonable requirement that they spot and remove ‘bad people’?

Anonymous Coward says:

Letter to politicians

Dear politicians,

you have turned politics into an us versus them system, by playing it as a win or lose game. That leads to you being loved or hated by different people, deal with it, without breaking the Internet.

Hint, tone down you politics, and become more willing to compromise with the other parties, especially when your viewpoints are not that far apart.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Letter to politicians

“you have turned politics into an us versus them system, by playing it as a win or lose game.”

no, they didn’t turn it into that. It has always been that way, why do you think groups get formed to begin with?

You are stronger in numbers, simple math. Yest you have to sacrifice some of your personal values for the group think but that is price.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Letter to politicians

“no, they didn’t turn it into that. It has always been that way”

Actually, it’s always The Rich versus everyone else.

You are not Rich, shouldn’t take any concern for those who are already at the top and getting richer the more oppress you. It’s what they do for literally fun and profit. Quit supporting them with some mythical right to “their” money, which they get handed merely for being born and is given value solely by labor of the poor. Tax cuts for The Rich will never actually help you, only harm.

As George Carlin said: It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.

BTW: no one has a right to band together and try to take over gov’t. Also, the “two-party system” is simply a sham put on by the Rich Party. We’d be better off outlawing ALL “political” parties.

Anonymous Coward says:

“in addition to everything else the UK’s newfound independence will muck up”. People, the world existed before the UK joined up with the EU and before the US had Obamacare. The world isn’t ending. People tried stuff out, not as many as some thought were happy with it. The universe doesn’t only exist for those who are in their 20’s and know no other life. Believe it or not, prior to those things being enacted, this was a very nice place to live.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“People, the world existed before the UK joined up with the EU and before the US had Obamacare”

So you keep saying, though I don’t know why you insist on rabbiting on about Obamacare in an article about the UK. Perhaps your partisan politics is rotting your brain?

Anyway, yes the world did exist. So? It’s wasn’t exactly the garden of Eden, and the world has changed a hell of a lot since we started creating the EU.

“Believe it or not, prior to those things being enacted, this was a very nice place to live.”

If you were lucky. You seem to forget the people for whom it was not, which is the wont of people who view the past with Empire-tinted glasses.

Do you have any actual arguments to make, or is “well, my grandparents didn’t seem to mind the 50s so let’s all go back there” all you have?

Anonymous Coward says:

‘ Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee, said:

This level of vile and threatening behaviour, albeit by a minority of people, against those standing for public office is unacceptable in a healthy democracy.’

neither he nor anyone else gave or gives a fuck when it’s an ordinary person in the scope! all he and his ilk are worried about is ensuring that everyone except them get hit! fucking hypocrite! then dont forget that the ‘the right to be forgotten’ only applies, in reality, to the rich and famous and again does fuck all for ordinary people, who have nothing to hide anyway and that Google etc are the scum of the earth for telling everyone what the elite have been up to, who was affected and what the outcome was. those in these elitist positions need to be brought off their ‘ivory towers’ and subjected to the same as everyone else, not screened from letting everyone know everyday what the fuckers have been doing! and why is it that it isn’t governments being held accountable? they deserve to be exposed more than any other entity anywhere!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Publishers or platforms?

At times the claim is that Google / Facebook are publishers with an absolute First Amendment Right to arbitrarily control / disallow speech on their platforms…

At times the claim is that Google / Facebook are platforms absolutely immune from liability for what “natural” persons publish, let alone required to police content…

Even corporations CANNOT have everything all ways at once.

Even corporations CANNOT just re-define words like the Red Queen: “means whatever I want, when I want”. (ECJ news: Uber is held to be a transport company, not digital service!)

This yet again points to the way that decisions MUST end up: that “on teh internets” is not new, but JUST LIKE all other business, subject to regulation and required to police for the public good according to common law, not by the notions of corporate tyrants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Publishers or platforms?

Which is exactly what we are advocating. No one sues the concrete and soap box companies for someone who stands on a soapbox on a public sidewalk and says illegal stuff.

Your initial point about the two different claims is irrelevant. A company’s First Amendment rights has nothing to do with their liability for the actions of their users unless the company itself is encouraging and sanctioning said behavior. Which, you will notice, that in the terms of use for any of these sites, your use of the site is dependent on you not using the site for anything illegal.

John Smith says:

Distributor liability for defamation is the norm, Section 230 the exception. We already have the DMCA for copyright infringement, and the internet companies deal with it. They don’t even have Section 230 in most of the world and Google still operates in places like Australia.

A small group of noisemakers online want to create the impression that “everone” is against distributor liability, when that is not the case. It was obvious that once powerful people were targeted for defamation that the pushback to abolish 230-like protection will be strong.

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