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UK’s Great Challenge: How to Regulate the Internet

22 Feb 2017Government and Law Essays

At the turn of the 21st century man has witnessed the remarkable growth of the Internet. It goes by many names like cyberspace, the Net and the World-Wide-Web, each one a fitting description of its scope, influence, and size even if it is not remotely possible to accurately gauge its attributes. There is a propensity for the Internet to be both a blessing and a curse – depending on the user and intended purpose. Thus, since the time that this new technology has become routine in UK and around the world there are many who are clamouring to regulate it.

This paper will show that it would be impossible to regulate something as complicated, far-reaching, and versatile as the Net. Even for a nation known for its serious determination to achieve order and a high degree of excellence such as the UK this would be very unlikely. And this is a good development because no one, no single organization or government in the world should regulate the Internet. Still, there would many who would like to

see some form of control and all these will be expounded in the following pages.

Need for Regulation

The Internet is something that is becoming more and more difficult to fully define as the years go by. It is at its basic form a means of communication, a medium that can be best described as an efficient means of sending messages halfway around the world in a fraction of a second. There can be two way communications here as well as one way communication where an individual or a group can target others and forward a ton of message e.g. advertising and other miscellaneous information.

Even though instant and cheap messaging is already a tremendous attribute, as the Internet is concern this is merely scratching the surface. The Internet can also be an online library. The Net can be an online repository of digital documents, pictures, maps and many more. It can also be a means of sending order to shops and suppliers. At the same time it can be used to track the orders that were previously made. The Internet can also be one huge virtual bank where people can send and receive money and where tycoons can move huge amounts of money from one continent to the next without having to travel around the world.
The Net can also be a major tool for governing a nation. Its ability to interconnect different branches and agencies of government is an invaluable tool for management. The Internet serves as way for the government to effectively communicate to the whole nation and even to other countries around the world.

The Internet can be seen as a web alright, it is a network of computers and servers but it is a complex interweaving of personal, business, and government. This makes it very difficult if not impossible to regulate the web. First, of all trying to monitor all that traffic would require something bigger than the UK, even bigger than the UN and for that to happen would be impractical.

Access

Even with the Net’s powerful attributes and its capability to communicate and send data in such high speeds, it should not pose a major problem. The dilemma lies in the fact that the Internet is an open portal to a new world, meaning a 5 year old can interact with a multitude of personality with differing levels of mental health and most importantly with differing sexual preferences.
Clarifying the issue all the more, the Internet is becoming more popular and basically everyone has access to all beneficial as well as disturbing material. Buckingham and Willet pointed out the increasing trend when they wrote:

Young people’s access to the internet is steadily increasing. Three quarters of 9 to 19 years-olds in the UK had accessed the internet from a computer at home in spring 2004, this figure being among the highest in Europe and far higher than among UK adults generally. The ways in which the internet is rapidly becoming embedded in everyday life are attracting widespread attention, raising questions about access and inequalities … and the balance between online opportunities and risks for children…(2006, p. 93).

Regulating the net requires tough laws and a demonstration that those who will violate whatever law or statute will be caught, tried, and sentenced for the crime committed. Again this is difficult to do. A person can create a virtual identity, comes in to an internet café, logs in and then vanishes just like that. It is very easy to hide under false names and pseudonyms.
Still, there is a great racket out there, a cry for regulation of some form. There are basically two major problems that are fuelling this uproar and these are listed as follows:

Cyber crime

Cyber porn

With regards to extreme levels of cyber porn there are at least two aspects. The first one is hard core pornography that can be easily accessed by teenagers an age group that should not be allowed to view such disturbing images and acts. The second one concerns the promotion of an illegal act which is called paedophilia. In this respect sociologists Eamonn Carrabine et al, wrote the following:

Another instance of globalisation at work is the relatively recent arrival of a complex network of world linked through the Internet that cater for interests in child pornography and paedophile abuse. By most accounts this is widespread, much condemned but quite hard to regulate, and it has generated extensive public talk about it as a problem in much of the Western Media (2004, p. 164).

An added factor to the uncontrollable aspect of the Internet is the fact that it goes beyond the borders of the UK. This has been made clear in a BBC News online commentary that says foreign websites could not be prosecuted by British laws. Now faced with this insurmountable problem there are those who will be pushing the envelope and would suggest more stringent measures to punish those in the home front and go after UK citizens who download such types of illegal material (see BBC News, 2007).

Mitigating Forces

There are no clear-cut laws governing Internet regulation in the UK (see Bidgoli, 2004). Even when pressure is mounting for the UK government to take more serious steps in curbing paedophilia in the Internet and score of other hard core pornographic content on the Web, there is still no law regulating the same. Price and Verhulst asserted that, “In the United Kingdom concern over Internet content has not led to specific legislation or licensing controls. However, it has led to the establishment in September 1996 of the Internet Watch Foundation or IWF (2000, p. 70).

Now, even if the highest law giving body of the land could not create a practical and reliable system for regulation it doe not mean that there is nothing that can be done to mitigate the impact of illegal content in the Net. As mentioned earlier steps can be made to lessen the harmful effects and one of this is the establishment of institutions such as the IWF. Expounding on this idea, there can be three major groups that can be the mitigating force against the onslaught of Internet crime and these are:

Private citizens

Government

Groups that are in ISP business

With regards to the first group there is probably no other component of the three-pronged mitigating force than the self-vigilance of concerned citizens. From parents, teachers, and local community leaders and even teenagers and children themselves can be armed with the knowledge on how to stop cyber crime on its tracks.

If there is available software that can filter in smut then these types of software must be studied conscientiously and if there is a need to update the software regularly then this group will just have to pay the price for having a safe home. The children will have to be trained and educated to understand the intricacies of the Web and the various means as to how a paedophile will trap an unsuspecting minor.

With regards to the government, there is no doubt that it is the most powerful of the three. The UK government can be the ultimate coordinator in the drive against cyber porn and other cyber crimes. The government has unlimited resources to make other related agencies to focus on the problem. It can also direct schools to establish a campaign for teaching kids. In other words if others will drop the ball, if families and other disparate groups will not take the lead, the government can.

The government can also make businesses within the Internet Service Provider industry create more effective steps in identifying pornography sites and then filter it before it can be accessed in homes. But the government can only do so much in this regard. And as Price and Verhulst had pointed out, governments can, “…consider avenues of self-regulation for industry. However, it is the sector that is subject to the regulation that establishes the process and formula for regulation” (2000, p. 58). This simply means that the enterprise in the business of providing Internet services will have to take a more central role in improving the filtering and blocking of unwanted sites for their customers who will demand a more child-safe Internet experience.

Self-Regulation

The answer then is not a tyrannical control of the Net by a government hell bent on cleaning up cyberspace. And this is perhaps the best thing that could be done, to take responsibility and to take a more pro-active stance in self-regulating internet use. And self-regulation meaning that those who are members of the internet industry specifically ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

Another way of putting some order in a very chaotic universe is the acknowledgement by parents and concerned citizens that it is high time for them to take responsibility and carry part of the burden themselves rather than to shift all the blame and the hard work to the government. Buckingham and Willet are both very much on target when they said, “With increasing complexity of technology and wider media choice people will have to take more responsibility for what they and their children see and hear on screen and online … We will all become

Conclusion

It has been made very clear in the discussion that the Internet is like a universe to itself. It is a world that has no walls, boundaries and central authority regulating its every movement. But unlike outer space that just sits there doing nothing, the Internet is a world full of wonder, excitement, and lots of information and multi-media content that would surely draw people in. This is a fact well-known to cyber criminals such as paedophiles.
Another problem would be the inadvertent access to sites containing lewd scenes and other forms of hard core porn. It is therefore understandable why more and more parents and concerned citizens are demanding for a more effective way of regulating the net.

Even if there is a great need to regulate it has been made clear that this would be impossible. The sheer size, scope, and capability of the internet to counteract such moves would make it virtually impossible to see serious regulation to ever occur. In fact, in the UK there is no specific law that can force regulation.

Now, this is where it all begins to clash and make the issue very much problematic. Regulation in its broadest meaning could connote the idea of spying on people. A basic understanding of the web will tell that in order to fully stop access to illegal sites there would be a need for a watchdog and would snoop at what the ordinary person is doing. This type of methodology is unacceptable and yet this is the only way to truly regulate the net.

There is a reason why there is no specific law in the UK that would enforce regulation. Governments all over the world are benefiting from an internet that is basically unregulated. An unregulated cyberspace can be likened to a free-flowing river where ideas, products and opportunities move in unencumbered. The amount of money generated by the web is even better than all the free trade agreements combine.

Still, it does not mean that families and children will be at the mercy of cyber criminals. Even without strict regulatory laws, there are avenues that could be explored with regards to mitigating the impact of a wide-open Internet. There are three groups as mentioned earlier that will create a three-pronged approach to stop paedophiles and psychologically harmful content to ever reach children who are Internet users in the UK. And these are: a) Private Citizens; b) Government; and c) Groups in the ISP businesses.

With the government in the centre it can coordinate action plans and enforce laws that will encourage families and business groups in the Internet sector to practice effective self-regulation. In this way the Internet can be monitored but in a way that will pinpoint the problem and not create a blanket authority for the government that may result in the violation of privacy of many individuals.

References

  • BBC News. “Do Violent Net Porn Laws Go Far Enough?” bbc.co.uk [online] Retrived 22 October 2007. from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/4196864.stm
  • Bidgoli, H. (2004). The Internet Encyclopedia. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Buckingham, D. & Willett, r. (2006). Digital Generations: Children, Young People, and the New Media. London: Routledge.
  • Carrabine, E. et al. (2004). Criminology a Sociological Introduction. London: Routledge.
  • Hedley, S. (2006). The Law of Electronic Commerce and the Internet in the UK and Ireland. London: Cavendish Publishing Limited.
  • Price, M. & Verhulst, S. (2000). Charting the Course of Self-Regulation on the Internet in a Global: Environment. In C.T. Marsden (Ed.) Regulating the Global Information Society. London: Routledge.

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