UK Prime Minister Theresa May has recently been pushing for even greater regulatory powers over the internet, regulations that, according to experts, will be ineffective. The powers that May is looking for would allow the government to restrict what can be published online, and would require internet providers to weaken encryption so that the government can read people’s messages.
May, and the Conservative party more broadly, have had a bit of a hard on for internet regulation of late, seeming to believe that it will give them a simple fix to extremism and other nefarious deeds. In November, the Investigatory Powers Act (known by many as the Snooper’s Charter) passed and gave the government the legal tools to observe their citizens in a manner unmatched anywhere in western Europe, or even the US. Following the latest attack in London, Theresa May believes we now need to go further.
“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” May said. “Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.”
“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning,” she continued. “We need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”
The issue with this line of thinking, aside from the hideous invasion of privacy and horrifyingly vague language that would leave it wide open to misuse, is that experts have said such regulation won’t work. As a matter of fact, the plan put forward by the prime minister could in fact serve to make the internet a more dangerous place.
“There is no proven record showing that internet restriction could prevent any sinister plots from happening,” said NordVPN’s CMO, Marty P Kamden. “If a backdoor to the internet is built, it can actually be used by the same people that the government wants to keep track of. A backdoor gives away a lot of private information about each citizen, and puts big power in the hands of anyone who wants to take advantage of it.
“The essence of the internet is to be a free space – it was not built to have regulation, censorship or administrators.”
VPN provider NordVPN has seen a 300% increase in British user inquiries since the Investigatory Powers Act passed and that number is likely to increase if Mrs May gets her way. While the concern is understandable, the fact seems to remain that this policy is not only morally untenable but highly questionable in its efficiency. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, possibly put the argument best when addressing David Cameron’s first forays towards regulation in 2015.
“What I’m opposed to is to have zero privacy and scan everyone’s data all the time in case we see something,” he added.
“Human rights don’t go away just because you’re on the internet. We still have rights that governments need to respect.”