I sometimes get the feeling that we are seeing a modern day version of continental drift in action. In our case the move is inexorably into a virtual world that is called the web. It is happening at light speed – not centimetres a year as we are used to the with rocks out houses are built on.
The new world order is bringing about changes, uncomfortable for some and worrying for others. It was to provide a platform to discuss these changes that .UK registrar Nominet organised its first .UK Policy Forum in London yesterday. In a day where many subject were discussed it is difficult to pull out the key messages but some stick in my mind.
Internet minister Ed Vaizey who, due to commitments overseas, appeared in a pre-recorded video in which he emphasized that the government’s approach was one of light touch and the encouragement of self regulation.
Self-regulation in such a fast moving world as ours is often the only way to work. Governments still base their schedules using the old centimetres model. The internet industry is largely self regulating. Competition and common sense morals do most of the work for us.
That isn’t to say this is always going to work but there is a huge sense of expectation amongst some that the perceived problems caused by the internet’s explosive growth should be sorted out by the internet industry itself. One reason it won’t always work is that commercial interests are at play. It’s the same reason that government has to get involved in creating the environment for rolling out broadband to the final third – there is no business case.
In the case of the Rights Holders and ISPs attempts to sort out differences got nowhere partly because the RHs believed that ISPs should fund the attempts to reduce copyright infringement ie to pay towards the revenue protection of their own private business.
Website blocking is coming towards us both from our own and the European parliaments. ISPs should self regulate we hear. There is a blinkered determination by some to pursue agendas that plainly do not make sense in this new world. They are flailing around looking for help where to provide help would be expensive and simply move the problem elsewhere.
During yesterday’s debate chair person and Radio 4 today presenter Sarah Montague asked all present to vote on whether they thought it would be a good idea to block access to pornography as is being suggested by MP Claire Perry. Only 4 out of around 130 attendees voted in favour of blocking! The response from John Carr, “International Internet Consultant on Child Safety”, was that the audience was not representative of the country as a whole. The audience, however, as a gathering of internet savvy persons clearly was representative of those who understood the issues, technical and philosophical.
The final point is one that unifies all the others and that is that regulation should be evidence based. If there is one message that we should take away it is this. Had an acceptable body of evidence been amassed we would not have the Digital Economy Act. An evidence based approach would also render unlikely any regulation that the government might want to impose regarding web filtering and blocking.
I’d like to thank Lesley Cowley and the team at Nominet for putting together such an useful and informative day and also to reinforce why BBC Radio 4 leads the way – Sarah Montague did a top class job of holding the day together when so many people wanted to get their own points across.