Outgoing Ofcom chair recommends more internet regulation
Lord David Currie, the outgoing chairman of communications regulator Ofcom, last week became the latest to augur more regulation of the internet by the British government. In a speech at Millbank Tower in Westminster last Wednesday Currie said the internet had known a period of regulatory "forbearance", but that that period was coming to an end.
His remarks at the Ofcom Annual Lecture last Wednesday followed the formation of a body for the protection of children online and comments by a government minister suggesting regulation such as content ratings could be used to help television compete with the internet.
Currie noted that the Communications Act contains no references to the internet, in part because Parliament believed "the internet was still so new and its implications so uncertain that a period of legislative forbearance was called for". However, that attitude is changing, Currie said. "Ask most legislators today and, where they think about it, they will say that period is coming to an end," he said.
Currie emphasised that Ofcom is not "looking for trouble". Rather, he said he sees the regulatory climate changing and that Ofcom will inevitably be a part of the changes. "This is… a marker for my successor that Ofcom is likely to find its remit being stretched," he said. A separate question is just how any new duties would be enforced, Currie said - a question that is particularly relevant where it comes to the internet, where such systems are notoriously difficult to apply. "A word of caution to legislators: if you do decide to stretch Ofcom's remit please match any duties with the necessary powers and levers to deliver on them," Currie said.
In late September culture secretary Andy Burnham said the government plans to crack down on the internet in order to redress a regulatory imbalance with television, which he said had robbed television of its ability to take risks.
Following a speech at the Royal Television Society conference in London, Burnham reportedly suggested that the government and wider industry should question the idea that the internet was "beyond legal reach" and was a "space where governments can't go". He said he would like to "tighten up" online content and services and "lighten up" some regulatory burdens on the TV industry.
In early October, following the launch of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), Burnham reportedly went further, suggesting that certain types of web content, such as downloadable videos, could be subjected to a content-rating scheme. "It doesn't seem over-burdensome for these to be regulated," he reportedly said.
The UKCCIS brings together more than 100 social networking sites and technology firms and is intended to protect children and young people on the internet through a public awareness campaign, along with other measures that have not yet been fully defined.