Why has it taken so long for the UK to move on regulation of the Internet?

For six years (2000-2005), I was the first independent Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an industry-funded body which combats illegal content, primarily child abuse images, online. We had significant success, certainly in eliminating the hosting of child abuse images in the UK.

However, I was concerned that there was other material online which, while not actually illegal, was highly problematic. But I could not get the industry or the government to address such material because they found the problem too controversial and too difficult.

Therefore I am pleased to see the news that the Government now intends to give the communications regulator Ofcom – on whose Consumer Panel I sat for eight and half years (2004-2012) – new responsibility for regulating harmful content on the Net. There are many issues of principle and practice to address in this initiative but I feel that it is a significant move in the right direction.

However, why has it taken 20 years to step up to the plate on this? Once I was free of the constraints of being IWF Chair, I was able to address this issue publicly and made a number of speeches (including one at Ofcom) and a number of submissions (including one to the Government’s Communications Review).

The detail of what I suggested has been overtaken by events – especially the huge growth in user-generated content online – but the key principles of my approach – that the Net needs some further regulation and that the key issue should be harmful content – have now been taken up by the Government and will eventually be exercised by Ofcom.


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