The United Kingdom’s Conservative and Unionist Party leader Theresa May recently unveiled the party’s election manifesto. Towards the end of the manifesto, the party states that, “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.” The party’s new manifesto, titled Forward, Together – Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and Prosperous Future, was debuted at an event in Halifax. Party officials at the event confirmed they plan to push forward an initiative to create an internet that was controlled and regulated by the government. The initiative would allow the UK to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet,” the manifesto went on to say.
The initiative to control and regulate the internet comes after the UK’s Conservative Party brought back the Snoopers Charter (the Investigatory Powers Act), which went into effect late last year. The Snoopers’ Charter authorizes mass surveillance of the internet and forces British ISPs to retain data on their customers browsing history and internet use. The act also allows the government to force companies to provide access to encrypted communications. The Conservatives want companies to insert backdoors into technology which uses encryption, to allow for the government to gain access. Eliminating “safe spaces” for “terrorists” to communicate online is also called for under the Conservative’s initiative. If the Conservatives are actually successful in doing this, they would inevitably also eliminate online havens for free speech as a side effect. Of course some legislators may view that as a feature of the law and not a bug.
The party calls for new restrictions on accessing pornography, hate speech, “and other sources of harm” online under their new plan. New government regulations requiring social media companies to delete data held about young people once they turn 18 years of age are also called for in the party’s manifesto. Legislators intend to introduce a law to create a regulatory framework to exert more government control of the internet. Regulators would be empowered to fine and prosecute companies that refuse to comply with the proposed new regulations, and companies which refuse to remove content which violates UK laws and regulations. Conservatives are also proposing to create new taxes on social media companies and ISPs which would fund awareness and prevention programs about online “harms”. The proposed taxes are intended to be modeled on the taxation of the UK gambling industry, which funds programs to combat problems with gambling.
Conservatives appear to believe that creating a heavily government regulated internet will attract corporations and make the UK a global leader in technology. In the manifesto, the party recognizes that drastic changes to the internet would require global cooperation. To implement their initiative, the Conservatives are proposing to work with private corporations and “other like-minded democracies” to develop an international legal framework. Additionally, the Conservatives are planning to create a Digital Charter, and under the charter private corporations and charities would develop a framework to create opportunities and obligations for businesses. Through this digital charter, the Conservatives claim the UK will become the best and safest place in the world to start and run an online business. Freedom of the press may also be threatened by the Conservative’s agenda, as the new Conservative manifesto also calls for stopping fake news through regulations designed to protect the “reliability and objectivity” of online media.
The Labour Party’s manifesto also calls for some of the same kinds of new regulations of the internet that the Conservative Party is calling for in their manifesto. Some of the regulations both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party call for in their manifestos include regulations to protect children online and to require the deletion of a user’s data when the user turns 18 years of age. With the Snoopers’ Charter and platforms of some of the major British political parties, it appears the British people are having their digital rights threatened more than ever.