Data Driven Futures

Government internet regulation plans ‘fall short’: CBI

Written by Hannah McGrath

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has backed the government’s proposals for an independent internet regulator, but has warned that business needs greater clarity on its scope and plans for a duty of care over online harms.

The trade body’s response to the Online Harms White paper called for “clear regulation” and highlighted the need for the proposed Duty of Care, which would hold bosses of tech companies and social media platforms responsible for harmful content, to be focussed specifically on “illegal harmful content”.

Instead, it called on the government to re-examine proposals for “legal but harmful issues” in order to build a digital economy that “can be the international yardstick for how best to protect people from harm online, while also supporting the UK’s flourishing digital economy”.

Responding to the government’s plan to set up an regulatory body for online harm, initially overseen by the broadcasting regulator, the CBI said that while it was possible for Ofcom to be the home of the new regulator, “for it to be successful it must be independent, properly resourced and equipped with the right expertise”.

The regulator should be funded by a mixture of public money and industry contributions, the CBI said, adding that the government should not “out-source its responsibility to build public trust and keep its citizens safe”.

The trade body emphasised its support for the principle of regulation that plays a “crucial role” in building trust in the digital economy, but added that “current proposals risk falling short of the government’s ambition to be the best and safest place to build a digital business”.

The CBI set out a five point plan that could help develop business-friendly internet regulation, including:

• Backing a new independent regulator as part of OFCOM.

• Providing clear rules to follow - greater clarity on the definitions, legal responsibilities and scope.

• Drawing up enforcement measures which are both proportionate and feasible.

• Joining up government initiatives on tech policy and regulation.

• Enhancing digital literacy across business and the wider UK public.

According to data supplied by the CBI, the UK digital sector is creating jobs almost three times faster than the rest of the economy. However, public trust is still hard won, with 76 per cent adult internet users expressing concern about going online following data privacy scandals such as Cambridge Analytics and cyber security incidents.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “The UK has a unique opportunity to set out a world-leading approach to internet regulation, but while the UK leads its digital competitors, it cannot rest on its laurels – major regulatory interventions must be internationally workable and sought after by the rest of the world.

“After speaking to businesses across the country, from start-ups to multinationals, it’s clear these proposals fall short and can be improved,” she continued, adding: “Done badly, poor regulation will undermine new entrants into the digital economy and dampen UK investment, while having minimal impact on improving public trust.”