No regulation can secure the internet for every user – POLITICO
James Snell is a senior advisor at the New Lines Institute. He is writing a book about the war against Afghanistan.
You may not have heard, but the Internet is an unacceptably dangerous place. A place full of terrorists, financial frauds, child abusers and rudeness.
Or at least that’s according to the British government.
In the great freedom versus security debate, the British state has always placed itself firmly in the security camp, safe from everything at all costs. And this time, as is often the case, the government’s sights are firmly set on the Internet, while censorship is, as always, its proposed solution.
The UK’s online security bill continues its slow progress through parliament this week, and as a bill promising dramatic censorship, it has hit many hurdles. Yet, like a horror villain, it has constantly mutated and risen to fight another day.
Pushed endlessly by three Conservative administrations, presided over by four Home Secretaries and three Prime Ministers, it all stems from the government’s relentless desire to censor the Internet.
For the UK government, there is no question that censorship is not the answer to. And there is no problem, be it horticultural internet scams, terrorism, radicalization (however defined), the “loneliness epidemic”, teenage suicide or eating disorders, that he does not respond to by demanding strict discipline and a new regime. regulation.
Technological immorality has long been a preoccupation of the British right. Censorship takes the place of reason every time, and the invention of PCs and smartphones has only turned the screws further.
At the turn of the last century, the emergence of films with titles like “Driller Killer” led to widespread moral panic about VHS tapes and so-called “video villains.”
When I was a boy, the newspapers were full of stories of “happy slappers”; a craze where teenage criminals apparently beat up bystanders while filming it on their Motorola Razrs. This led to widespread calls from Conservative MPs to ban young people from having phones in the first place.
The previous Conservative government also wasted years trying to restrict legal pornography. The fact that it might infringe on personal freedom? Not important. That the law was completely impractical to enforce, especially in the age of data protection laws. No significance. The plan failed only because it was not a priority in a party already suffering from constant internal chaos.
And, of course, censorship is now once again on the agenda.
Conservatives are still long and losing against decentralization and online anonymity, the foundation of philanthropic sites like Wikipedia. And they’re also fighting another major encrypted messaging app like WhatsApp, demanding, again unsuccessfully, that the service and others like it loosen encryption or installrear doorsto allow authorities access.
Naturally, Britain is not alone in requiring such wording, nor are its legislators uniquely Luddite. The United States Senate and the European Parliament have provided similar examples of massive technological ignorance allied with a would-be censorship zeal. None of these push for censorship and surveillance in any country understand that any exemption would defeat the rationale for using such services in the first place.
Any app that compromises these requirements will be abandoned, and other, more stealthy apps will steal market share overnight. Like their American and European counterparts, British conservatives have never fully understood the Internet or this side of the market.
Interestingly, however, the call for censors is moving beyond Britain’s Conservative Party and is increasingly spreading through parliament. The opposition Labor Party even called for a crackdown on virtual private networks (VPNs) in December, a deeply frivolous proposal that would be profoundly chaotic to even attempt.
A lot of remote work is only possible with VPNs, and those who are security conscious usually use them to stay away from the very online harm that the government is trying to regulate.
Meanwhile, many MPs also want to make it illegal to send nasty messages online. When my former MP David Eames was murdered in 2021 – with a knife, not a tweet – MP Marc Francois used the heated parliamentary debate to call for a “Law of David” that would punish certain types of online behaviour, making it. unable to install anonymously — something that would testify to the government’s staggering over-problem.
Compared to other democracies, Britain’s laws are already subject to unique censorship. Individuals are routinely fined or sent to jail for dangerous texts and snarky tweets under the Communications Act and the Public Order Act. And if they get out, even messages sent using encryption can land people in jail for causing “gross offence.”
In Scotland, for example, internet users are now subject to a new hate crime law that could send them to prison for “inciting hatred,” a term without an adequate definition that could prove too powerful in the hands of overzealous prosecutors.
But beyond jailing individuals for off-color communications, the UK government fundamentally wants the ability to censor online platforms, while criticizing authoritarian regimes for doing the same. An individual can already be jailed for expressing bad thoughts, but the government, along with much of the opposition, now wants to deny it the possibility and space in the first place.
This is the basic assumption behind the proposed bill. That the internet needs to be made safer by users and the state should be understood and approached with measured caution.
But life itself is dangerous. risks cannot be avoided. And no regulation can secure the Internet for every user, nor can it protect every user from abuse.
In other areas of life, we are forced to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions; Parents are expected to be responsible for their children. But when the Internet grows too large to directly control, the state and the Conservative Party are stretched into overdrive.
Politicians believe that the public wants censorship, hard and fast and as soon as possible. But while they may be right, the consequences of massive state dominance are never pretty. And we’ll definitely be seeing them soon.