Statement: On the ‘Regulating in a digital world’ report by the Select Committee on Communications of the House of Lords

Published:  Mon 11 Mar 2019

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) welcomes today’s report from the House of Lords’ Communications Committee and the 10 principles it recommends to help shape the digital world of the future. Our CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE was asked to give evidence to the Inquiry last year and share with committee members insights from IWF’s experience and expertise.

The IWF has long maintained that traditional approaches to regulation are hard to apply to the internet and that human rights and the needs of vulnerable children should play an important role in any regulatory approach. As part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, the IWF has been a proactive actor in the Government’s ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start a digital business.

The Report recommends a new statutory duty of care to govern online services which host user-generated content, stating that Ofcom should have responsibility for enforcing it.  This duty would relate particularly to children and vulnerable people. The duty of care should extend to factoring safety into the design of services to prevent harm.

The IWF takes a co-regulatory approach to combating child sexual abuse images and videos by working in partnership with the internet industry, law enforcement and governments around the world. It offers an evolving suite of tools to the online industry to keep their networks safer.

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE, said: “There’s a lot to applaud here. We need an approach which balances privacy needs of individuals and children’s safety without one obscuring the other. Only this will ensure that we don’t end up with regulation which leaves children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

“It’s great that the Lords recognise that children are vulnerable users and must be protected, and this should be at the top of the agenda. It’s acknowledged that respect for freedom of expression, information, and innovation is important and that education is vital to help children and parents wise up to online harms and are more savvy about the digital world. These are concepts we fully support and fundamental to the way in which we operate.

“Tackling criminal child sexual abuse material requires a global multi-stakeholder effort and we’ll help policymakers craft a regulatory framework which is sustainable and puts victims and vulnerable people like children at its heart. Any regulation should be developed with the industry and other key stakeholders taking into consideration what is technically possible now, and flexible enough to adapt in the future.”

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