apComms – Regulating the Internet

The all-party parliamentary communications group (apComms) have published the results of their enquiry into various aspects of internet security – entitled “Can we keep our hands off the net?” – to which JANET provided written evidence earlier in the summer. We responded on two of the five questions, relating to the work of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and to liability of ISPs for “bad traffic” to and from their users. The report makes a number of recommendation on areas of  interest to JANET sites, mostly along the lines suggested in our submission.

The group recognises the success of the IWF in removing indecent images of children from UK websites and recommends (rec.6) that this practice be extended to other countries. They also recommend (7) against making network-level blocking against the IWF list compulsory, to avoid damaging the success of self-regulation in this area.

There is a recommendation (10) that ISPs develop a self-regulatory code for detecting and dealing with malware-infected computers, though the report quotes our concerns that technology to do this may make mistakes: both failing to spot some infected computers and incorrectly identifying others as infected. However the conclusions are at least much more narrowly focussed than the original enquiry proposal and only apply to malware infections. Our concern that the tightly defined ‘mere conduit’ protection from liability might be lost if organisations attempt to filter network traffic to protect their users was recognised and the Government is recommended (11) to revise this area of law to give greater clarity.

Although we did not comment on illicit use of peer-to-peer technology to share copyrighted files, suggestions by other respondents that ISPs be made liable for copyright breach are strongly resisted. Indeed the report recommends (2) that the current government consultations in this area should be postponed until the European Telecomms Directives have been revised. The report also recommends that the option of disconnecting subscribers for copyright breach be ruled out as incompatible with other Government proposals – a point we have also been making in our responses to other consultations on copyright enforcement.

The report also has recommendations on a new, clearer, law on privacy (1); that behavioural advertising be only permitted on an opt-in basis (3); that eSafety be included in school curricula (4) and that eSafety messages be provided at point of sale for mobile phones (5);  that Ofcom monitor developments in network neutrality (8) and require ISPs to advertise minimum guaranteed bandwidth (9). Although apComms has no formal authority its reports have in the past had some influence on policy, for example in amending the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to include denial of service attacks. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these new recommendations are taken up.

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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