Theresa May Plans To Regulate, Tax And Censor The Internet

from the who-would-vote-for-that? dept

With UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently calling for a new election there, which she is expected to win easily (despite recent reports of narrowing polls), last week May's Conservative party released its Manifesto (what we in the US tend to call a party's "platform"). There are all sorts of things in there that are getting press attention, but for the stuff that matters here on Techdirt, let's just say May's view of the internet is not a good one. A part of the plan is basically to regulate, tax and censor the internet, because the Conservative Party leadership doesn't seem to much like the internet -- and they especially dislike the fact that Google and Facebook are so successful.

What's hilarious is that the manifesto basically promises to put in place all sorts of rules that will absolutely kill off any internet economy in the UK, as no company in its right mind would agree to these restrictions, while, at the same time, it talks up how important it is to support digital businesses in the UK. Of course, some of the plan is couched in nice sounding language that should actually scare you:

A Conservative government will develop a digital charter, working with industry and charities to establish a new framework that balances freedom with protection for users, and offers opportunities alongside obligations for businesses and platforms. This charter has two fundamental aims: that we will make Britain the best place to start and run a digital business; and that we will make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.

"Balances" freedoms? Freedoms aren't supposed to be "balanced." They're supposed to be supported and protected. And when you have your freedoms protected, that also protects users. Those two things aren't in opposition. They don't need to be balanced. As for "obligations for businesses and platforms" -- those five words are basically the ones that say "we're going to force Google and Facebook to censor stuff we don't like, while making it impossible for any new platform to ever challenge the big guys." It's a bad, bad idea.

Of course, immediately after that, there's a bunch of nonsense about how the UK will be the "best" place to run a digital business. That's, uh, not even remotely true based on what is said in the immediately preceding paragraph.

We will ensure there is a sustainable business model for high-quality media online, to create a level playing field for our media and creative industries.

This is a dog whistle to the legacy film and recording industries about terrible copyright laws on the way. For a few years now, those industries have been whining about the need for a "level playing field" -- which to them means no internet innovation in business models, but rather a government mandated business model that protects an old, legacy way of doing business. Promising a "sustainable business model" from the government makes no sense. That's not how it works unless you're giving companies monopolies... oh, wait, yeah, that's what copyright is all about. So, basically, say goodbye to lots of innovation in the creative fields in the UK, because Theresa May wants to lock in the business model from 1998.

Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline. It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.

Again, these are the kinds of things that lots of people find reassuring... if they know absolutely fuck all about how the internet works and what it would actually take to do this. First off, the rules that govern offline do govern online. Second, it is just as socially unacceptable to bully on the playground as it is to online -- but (spoilers!) it still happens in both places. It's sad and unfortunate, but history has yet to come up with a way to stop bullying on the playground, and most suggestions for how to do it online involve ridiculous surveillance and censorship, which creates a whole host of other problems. And, the whole "grooming children" on the internet is an overblown moral panic that happens extremely rarely. As for running into pornography and violence -- certainly an issue, but one that parents generally are supposed to handle, rather than the government seeking to censor the entire internet. And, what the hell does it even mean to say it should be as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically? In many cases, it's more difficult. In some cases, it's easier. But, given the long list of crimes, it's difficult to argue that digital crime, as a whole, is somehow "easier" than offline crime. It's a silly, meaningless statement that just plays on bogus fears about the "dangers" of the internet.

We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.

Basically: we will make private internet companies our internet censorship police, or we'll fine them millions of dollars. This will create all sorts of unnecessary problems. First, to avoid liability, companies will massively over-censor. We see this happen all the time. All sorts of perfectly fine and legitimate content will be censored just to avoid the potential liability. Second, this will be massively expensive. Sure, Facebook and Google can probably handle the expense, but no one else will be able to. If you're trying to start the next Facebook or Google in the UK, you're fucked. You can't afford to police all the content on your platform, nor can you afford the potential liability. Probably best to just move somewhere else. Third, does the UK government really want private platforms like Google and Facebook making these determinations? Why is it handing off the responsibility of what kind of speech is "illegal" to private, for-profit companies (foreign companies, at that)?

In addition, we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.

And this may be the most terrifying line of all here. That's the dog whistle for "we'll outlaw encryption" because encryption -- in the minds of foolish, scaredy-cat politicians -- creates "safe spaces" for terrorists. Nevermind that the same encryption creates "safe" spaces for every other person and that undermining that makes absolutely everyone less safe. This is a dangerous plan that seems to echo the words of the UK's Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, from a few months ago, where she wanted to find people who knew the necessary hashtags to silence terrorists online. This isn't policy making. This is nonsense.

We will educate today’s young people in the harms of the internet and how best to combat them, introducing comprehensive Relationships and Sex Education in all primary and secondary schools to ensure that children learn about the risks of the internet, including cyberbullying and online grooming.

First of all, why is the education only on the "risks" of the internet, and not the benefits and opportunities? What an odd thing to focus on. Second, it's 2017. Are there really still schools that don't already teach this stuff? And, as mentioned earlier, the bogeymen of "cyberbullying" and "online grooming" are both overblown moral panics.

We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data, and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.

And... there's the "right to be forgotten." Apparently, the plan is a blanket right to be forgotten for anything about you from before you're 18. Look, I did stupid things before I was 18. You probably did too. It's kind of part of being a teenager. You do stupid things. Most people then grow up. They regret what they did, but most normal people recognize that when others did stupid stuff in their teens, it was because they were teenagers who then grew up as well. In other words, most people put that stuff into context. You don't need to delete it. You just recognize it happened, that the person was a teenager when they did it, and you assume they probably grew up and matured.

We will continue with our £1.9 billion investment in cyber security and build on the successful establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre through our world-leading cyber security strategy. We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks. We will further strengthen cyber security standards for government and public services, requiring all public services to follow the most up to date cyber security techniques appropriate.

How the hell are you going to do that at the same time that you're outlawing encryption?

Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.

Yeah, we got that from all the nonsense above.

Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits.

Then you need to hire at least someone in your leadership who understands the internet, because it's clear that that's severely lacking.

We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law. We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.

There's the censorship and taxation bit, all in the course of a couple of sentences. Sanctions to "ensure compliance" with the censorship regime and "levies" to tax Facebook and Google to pay up because of imaginary "internet harms."

We believe that the United Kingdom can lead the world in providing answers. So we will open discussions with the leading tech companies and other like-minded democracies about the global rules of the digital economy, to develop an international legal framework that we have for so long benefited from in other areas like banking and trade.

So, not only will they tax, regulate and censor the internet, they want to get other countries to do the same thing.

There's much more in the manifesto, but this is basically a joke, and would destroy the tech sector in the UK, rather than help it. It shows an astounding level of ignorance about the internet and technology, and seems to be written by technically illiterate people who fall for internet hoaxes and now only think of the internet in terms of what they fear about it. It's a bad look, and a rather stunning one from a Conservative Party that supposedly favors deregulation/free market kind of ideas. This plan is the exact opposite. It's technically clueless, top-down paternalism.


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  • identicon
    Michael, 22 May 2017 @ 9:42am

    I'm pretty sure the Internet will just dump a lot of digital tea into a harbor and move somewhere else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      If they get elected and are insane enough to follow through on their plans, hopefully so, because if the tech companies don't give a solid 'NO' then this will just be start.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 3:38pm

        Re: Re:

        Unless they plan to completely change the system, there are plenty of internet-related companies that benefit from it. So far the government has been paying for all access. If they plan on extending the current regime, the internet companies outside of encryption, will get enough money to soften the moral blow considerably!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 4:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          A threat to encryption is only one aspect, a 'the internet is a scare place' tax and holding sites accountable for user submitted content would both make for painful costs to stay in the UK, the latter very much so for a site as massive as FB.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Cowardly Lion, 22 May 2017 @ 11:42pm

      Re:

      "...We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data..."

      I wouldn't worry, the above tells me it's all bullshit pre-election soundbitey weasel words. There's no way any UK government would honour the above statement. Citizens in charge of their own data? Ridiculous. Their data will be bought and sold, like it always has been. Over their heads, behind their backs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2017 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re:

        Don't forget, citizens' data will also be collected and kept forever by the UK government itself.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 25 May 2017 @ 2:33am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Indeed. I've no idea why anyone would vote Conservative in the UK; for the most part it's because they're not so keen on Labour.

          The so-called free market ideology was bad enough (markets didn't get any freer) but this new paternalism is downright awful. May was lousy as Home Secretary and she's worse as PM. I mean, her party seems to think we still have an Empire and I'm forever having to point out that RE: Brexit, Canada, India, and Australia have basically told us to go fish; what they actually said was to get on board with NAFTA. It's the gung-ho jingoistic flag-wavers that'll vote for this party of numbnuts and I fear they will get in. Dear lord, what a world!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 9:49am

    Regulate and Tax?
    Interesting. Isn't Theresa May supposed to be a conservative?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 10:15am

      Re:

      Children. Porn.
      The only two words that matter for conservatives when it comes to the internet. "Think of the porn" and "Easy access to children" make them mad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 2:07pm

        Re: Re:

        Except more than 2/3 of the Tory MPs in parliament were involved with the same paedophile ring as Jimmy Saville and Gary Glitter.......

        Still active MPs.

        Theresa May was the one who ordered dolphin square demolished and the land declared as a grade I listed building...no digging allowed there ever again..hmm

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 6:04pm

      Re:

      I love how regulations and "investment in cybersecurity" never have anything to do with making sure networks are actually secure.

      That's £1.9 billion in spying-on-you and attacking people we don't like money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 10:13am

    So the 1.9 billion cybersecurity prevented wecry from infecting their National Health Service computer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Donny the Cyber, 22 May 2017 @ 10:52am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 22nd, 2017 @ 10:13am

      No, no it didn't. Wecry was found by private security companies and lone researchers, as usual.

      The £1.9 billion was announced only in November and was for the "next five years" so it's unlikely much of it has been spent (Our governments have a habit of announcing "new" spending plans which use the same money over and over - notice the slippery language: "We will continue with our £1.9 billion investment").

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 May 2017 @ 1:18am

      Re:

      Extra money in cybersecurity doesn't really help the NHS when the same party are the ones trying to systematically destroy the NHS. Even if that money was immediately forthcoming and not an empty set of platitudes to make them look like they're "doing something" and "tough on crime", even though they have no clue what they're doing in that area.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 10:20am

    "It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochdale_child_sex_abuse_ring

    Priceless! A+ for effort!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 10:22am

      Re:

      And BTW, they seem to be FOR children accessing non-violent, non-degrading pornography online, in that statement. Just saying...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 23 May 2017 @ 1:21am

        Re: Re:

        The Tories couldn't stop kids like me accessing porn in the form of magazines and VHS tapes when it was banned in the country and had to be imported from abroad.

        They're probably hedging their bets because they know they can't stop everything now either, they just have to creates a demonisation of one specific type of material, even though the definition is wooly and includes a lot of harmless material (for example, there's still questions about some horror movies being allowed under the definition, even though nobody has ever been harmed in the making or viewing of them).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 10:45am

    This makes me happy

    I was worried that the U.S. was the only country that has complete and totals idiots in charge of our lives.

    Now I see that others have the same problem we do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 11:56am

      Re: This makes me happy

      Well politicians are control freaks who are meant to listen to people, and they do selectively. Those that say control what other people do get listened to, while those who say leave us alone get ignored. It also goes with the political prime directive, do something, anything, to show you are working for the people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 10:54am

    Manifesto is more than just a platform

    As an aside, a party's manifesto is more than its platform. From the Salisbury Convention, the House of Lords is limited in what it can do to oppose legislation that is stated in the manifesto. It is an important document, and a promise in the party's manifesto provides more lee-way in turning a promise into a law than a party platform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 12:47pm

    The UK Will Always Confuse Me

    Let's leave the EU! A centralized currency and trade regulations are too stiffing!

    Let's tax, censor, and monitor the internet!

    We shouldn't have to comply with laws from other countries!

    Other countries will need to be mindful or our new internet rules!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 22 May 2017 @ 5:07pm

      Re: The UK Will Always Confuse Me

      Let's leave the EU! A centralized currency and trade regulations are too stiffing!

      The UK never adopted the euro.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 1:40pm

    That's not the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 1:44pm

    Terrorists? Check.
    File-sharing? Check.
    Children? Check.
    Cyber-something? Check.

    Big Brother wants to kill Internet freedom. Above is the list of usual excuses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 22 May 2017 @ 1:58pm

    Negatives as Far as the Eye can See

    Theresa May Plans To Regulate, Tax And Censor The Internet

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    The time has come To Regulate, Tax And Censor politicians the world round.

    These worthless negatives (ie politicians), who for far too long have been given free reign, are responsible for the theft of trillions of dollars in productivity, creation of a planet wide surveillance system and the murder of hundreds of millions of human beings.

    Regulating, taxing and censoring is too good for a great many persons comprising the negative class as more appropriate measures would include standing before a jury of their peers to answer for their crimes and of course a nice cozy jail cell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 2:42pm

    Why turn this article about a direct attack on the internet into a pity party for techdirt's two corporate sponsors, Mike?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 22 May 2017 @ 5:10pm

      Re:

      When they say this:

      We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.

      who the fuck do you think they're talking about, if not Google and Facebook?

      I'm not a big fan of Google or Facebook either, but come the fuck on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 May 2017 @ 1:22am

      Re:

      Because they're directly affected. If only you could read between the lines on the real issues instead of making up stuff about this site, huh?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 3:24pm

    An astounding level of ignorance...

    "It shows an astounding level of ignorance about the internet and technology, and seems to be written by technically illiterate people who fall for internet hoaxes and now only think of the internet in terms of what they fear about it."
    I'm never astounded by the level of ignorance displayed by the ignorant, but it's sometimes the supplemental levels of stupidity that are truly impressive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 22 May 2017 @ 6:30pm

    Define appropriate?

    "follow the most up to date cyber security techniques appropriate."

    Depending on the definition of appropriate they're using there, that could eliminate any conflict created by prohibiting strong encryption.

    Just define encryption as inappropriate -- whether that has any connection to reality doesn't really matter -- then non-encryption security becomes the most up to date appropriate techniques.

    Those techniques don't work, mind you, but they will follow them nonetheless!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 7:42pm

    Coming from the government that passed the Digital Economy Bill with all ten years of imprisonment for downloading a file, this next step isn't surprising. Depressing, certainly, and unsurprising.

    Whenever a government uses fancy buzzwords like "IP-centric economy" and plans towards such an end, it seems that their main plan of implementation is to blast every other sector and the citizenry in the kneecaps with a shotgun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 25 May 2017 @ 5:28am

      Re:

      Wasn't that Labour? Wait... that was the neoliberal edition. However, since the Socialist edition also tends towards authoritarianism... ah, never mind.

      I'm getting thoroughly fed up of the fetishisation of "intellectual property" and of the idiots who go along with it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2017 @ 8:24pm

    For the sake of the rest of the world, I pray there are no "like-minded democracies" to the UK.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2017 @ 12:38am

    support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.

    Whoa whoa, WHAT !? Are they serious !? Did they just casually compare "the internet" (w/e that means) with gambling !? Are these people like 80 or something ? Is this a "get off my lawn, back in my day" sort of thing ? WTF !?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2017 @ 2:33am

    This from the woman who, when home secretary, 'saved' the NHS £15 by not renewing the support contract on XP machines...

    Should be banned from all tech decisions permanently

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2017 @ 5:36am

    Sadly May in her previous roles has shown herself very anti internet freedoms.
    She was very keen on security services routinely slurping everyone's data (bar MPs of course!)
    So this is more of the same.
    Still a big surge in income for VPN providers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave P., 23 May 2017 @ 11:23am

    Terrorism

    She will doubtless use the excuse of the latest terror atrocity in Manchester to try and limit all aspects of the net even further.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 12:09am

    I you plan on travelling to England, you can get around her censorship plan by setting up a VPN on your home computer and using that while in Britain.

    Just install the open source SoftEther on your Windows computer (not made for Macs) and then open the ports on your router and then create the login credentials

    While you are in Britain, you just connect to the VPN on your home computer, and use the Net that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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