On 9 September 2020, GNI hosted a multistakeholder roundtable discussion on human rights and content regulation in the United Kingdom. The discussion focused on the Online Harms White Paper that was first presented in April 2019, as well as the government’s response to public input received on a concurrent set of questions issued by the Department for Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport (DCMS). The discussion convened representatives from civil society, academia, companies, and DCMS and the Home Office, and it was the final in a series of public consultations held with stakeholders from around the world to discuss the challenges of content regulation for privacy and freedom of expression. The full content of the event report can be found here.
GNI began the discussion with an overview of the forthcoming policy brief, “Content Regulation and Human Rights in the Digital Age.” The draft brief, shared ahead of the consultation with attendees, provides a framework for considering good policy practice. The analysis and recommendations in the draft stem from GNI’s review of dozens of such efforts from jurisdictions all over the world, and draw upon the collective expertise and experience of GNI’s multistakeholder membership. GNI continues to seek input on the brief ahead of the full launch later this year.
The moderated discussion portion of the consultation covered four key themes raised by the white paper: codes of conduct, duty of care, remedy, and privacy. A robust discussion followed on the role for government in defining and enforcing restrictions on content that is harmful but legal. Participants also emphasized the need to consider different risk profiles based on different company size and business model distinctions, a point acknowledged in the government response to the public consultation on the white paper.
On the duty of care, participants noted that the regulator should strive to be transparent and consistent in how it assesses companies practices, particularly in areas where codes of practice don’t exist. The conversation turned to the issue of remedy, and participants emphasized how robust processes for remedy for affected users, without robust systems for transparency and accountability, are insufficient.
Finally, on privacy, participants raised concerns that the white paper could potentially set expectations for monitoring private communications, including encrypted messaging services. The consultation ended with a question as to whether the level of monitoring that might be required under the White Paper approach might veer away from EU standards.
Throughout the day, participants highlighted the significant global impacts of the UK’s regulatory approach, both with respect to potential extraterritorial implementation and as a model for other countries. As content regulation initiatives continue to be introduced and implemented around the world, GNI believes proactive and honest multistakeholder conversations on this topic are key to ensuring that responses to digital harms are legal, proportionate, and fit-for-purpose.