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Beware of plans to regulate the internet, groups warn

June 2019

Government proposals to police the internet by imposing fines on websites which fail to tackle ‘online harms’ have come under criticism from free speech groups.

Five civil liberties organisations have written a joint letter to the press saying the plans, if enacted, would make China’s state censors proud.

The five groups are English PEN, Big Brother Watch, Article 19, Open Rights Group, and Index on Censorship. They said there are fundamental problems with the government’s proposals.

‘Firstly, the white paper proposes to regulate literally the entire internet, and censor anything non-compliant. This extends to blogs, file services, hosting platforms, cloud computing; nothing is out of scope.

‘Secondly, there are a number of undefined “harms” with no sense of scope or evidence thresholds to establish a need for action. The lawful speech of millions of people would be monitored, regulated and censored.

‘The result is an approach that would make China’s state censors proud. It would be very likely to face a legal challenge. It would give the UK the widest and most prolific internet censorship in an apparently functional democracy. A fundamental rethink is needed’.