Should we try to regulate the internet?

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1. Information overload

The internet has completely transformed our world and now dominates nearly every aspect of our lives.

There are new pathways of communication and a sea change in how we interact with each other. It's revolutionised access to news and entertainment while enabling businesses to expand globally at an incredible rate.

The downsides, however, include hacking of private information, cyber-bullying and the risk of children and vulnerable people accessing inappropriate material. With such a relatively new technological innovation, and one built on freedom of expression and experimentation, can you construct a model for regulation?

2. To regulate or not to regulate?

The internet is facing a digital dilemma. Do we take a neutral approach and have access to all online content, or should there be a more stringent clampdown on the worst material?

Richard Bacon examines the pros and cons of the regulation of online content.

3. The basic methods

Aside from the extreme online censorship carried out by regimes in nations like China and Saudi Arabia, US lawyer and academic Lawrence Lessig, has drawn up the four primary modes of regulating internet content. Click on the labels to find out more.

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4. Around the world

How do different countries regulate the internet?

There are a variety of ways a state can choose to have influence over the use of the internet. These often depend on existing laws and freedoms and the level of authoritarian control over people's lives.

In the United States the US Constitution comes in to play. Laws designed to control the internet are often blocked as they clash with the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of expression.

At a different end of the scale North Korea has opted for a high level of state control over the internet. Authorities there have denied most people any access at all to the internet.

In the UK self regulation has, up to now, been the main tool for control. This places a reliance on voluntary actions by internet servce providers (ISPs) to monitor content and take down anything illegal whenever they see it. In addition laws for libel, contempt of court and offensive material, which apply to other areas like print and broadcast, also cover the online space.

5. The Investigatory Powers Bill

In November 2015, the government introduced legislation to overhaul Britain's state surveillance: The Investigatory Powers Bill. The bill is currently making its way through parliament, with revisions taking place, in the process of becoming law.

A few key points

  • UK communication firms will have to keep records for up to 12 months of websites, services and data sources you have visited.
  • Subject to safeguards the police can obtain internet connection records such as your browsing history (main domains not specifics).
  • Police will have the power to hack computers and smart phones to access information in circumstances where there is a threat to life.
  • For police and security services to intercept the content of people‚Äôs communication will require ministerial and judicial approval.