MPs threaten regulation over online safety
MPs will introduce new laws on online safety if web companies don’t comply with government demands to better police their services.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said there was a “mood” in Parliament to legislate if US tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter don’t voluntarily improve in areas such as online safety and libel.
Speaking at a Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing into online safety this week, Vaizey said MPs wouldn’t be “shy” about introducing stricter regulation.
“My message to all companies in this space is there is an appetite in Parliament for regulation and they should not be blind to that,” he said. “Therefore co-operating and getting ahead of the curve is a much better place for them to be.”
My message to all companies in this space is there is an appetite in Parliament for regulation and they should not be blind to that
“I don’t think MPs would shy away from legislation should they feel that they weren’t getting adequate results that they needed,” he added.
The select committee is currently investigating online safety and will issue recommendations in a report once its inquiry has concluded. It will then be up to web companies to act on those recommendations.
Vaizey did note that he was only in favour of legislation tackling specific problems, rather than blanket regulation.
“[Companies] would need to know what regulations they were going to be required to comply with, so I think we need to know which problems need to be fixed, and why legislation rather than working with organisations and encouraging them would be the answer,” he said.
Twitter and Facebook, both present at the hearing, didn’t comment on Vaizey’s comments.
Fresh from ISP filters
This isn’t the first time the government has wielded the threat of regulation to force tech companies to take action.
Child safety tsar Claire Perry led a successful campaign to persuade the UK’s major ISPs – Sky, BT, Virgin and TalkTalk – to introduce network-level filters in the name of child safety.
Earlier this year, Sky’s head of policy said the company had installed its filter voluntarily to avoid legislation.
Speaking alongside Vaizey, Perry praised the ISPs’ efforts and said tech firms were getting better at implementing government recommendations.
“Certainly the British ISPs are well ahead of the ask in terms of delivery,” she said on the new filters. “And we can see some of the global companies – who dance to a different legislative tune – have woken up to that. We’re in the awakening of a new dawn of social responsibility that is to be welcomed.”