Your Thoughts: A Government Controlled Internet by Lawyer Monthly

2 Jun 2017

One Pump Court’s, Andrew Gilbert, discusses his thoughts on a government controlled internet in Lawyer Monthly magazine.

Here’s what he had to say:

Pluralists democracies typically shy away from the censorship of the Internet, a modus operandi of states which stifle public dissent and political discussion. Once powers are in place to remove material deemed by the State to be adverse to the public interest, our society and individual citizens become extremely vulnerable to the gross abuse of these powers, regardless of how well-meaning our current leadership may be now. In 2007, the secular democracy of Turkey cited the need to protect children from grooming and pornography and passed laws effecting government of the Internet, which by 2013 were used by an increasingly autocratic regime to destroy organised dissent which arose around the Gezi Park peaceful protests.

The UK Government already has a broad set of existing powers to punish and deter the communication of explicit or extremist material: under The Terrorism Act 2000 Sections 57 and 58, which prohibits possession or communication to assist would-be terrorists, alongside sending emails which are indecent, grossly offensive, which are false, or which the sender believes to be false, and is nonetheless distributing it to cause distress.

Under the European Convention of Human Rights the freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information, as well as the right to enjoy private life, are not absolute rights. They may be restricted, but only where a restriction can be shown to be both: Necessary, and Proportionate. The CJEU, considering a referral by the UK Administrative Court concerning the compatibility of the 2014 DRIP Act, ruled on 21 December 2016 that any mass retention of data is illegal, and that only targeted surveillance of “serious crimes” is permitted under the law.

The 2016 IP Act also provides a power require ISPs to lift electronic encryption. This attacks the ability of users to conceal web activity in Virtual Private Networks or end-to-end encrypted communications. The erosion of encryption sets a dangerous precedent which may well have wider effects – undermining user confidence in the internet as a means of communication of sensitive material, whether that be personal medical and banking records or commercial negotiations.

Further muddying the waters, is the General Data Protection Regulation, in force in summer 2018 across the EU’s member states, which will effectively establish a right to privacy (as opposed to the right to ‘private life’), with extra territorial effect: countries which exchange data with EU residents must abide by its fundamental principles, in line with the CJEU’s guidance as to the proportionate approach to be taken by our societies in relation to our increasing data production. A truly enormous amount of activity is caught within its protections: guaranteeing minimum standards of data retention by both public and corporate bodies. However, its terms sit in opposition to those enshrined in the UK’s IP Act.

Snowden’s revelations have arguably chilled free speech. The power of the Security Services to steam open the paper mail of targeted suspects has been swapped for the steaming open and retention of digital communications of all us, regardless of suspicion. In the wrong hands, this ever-growing mountain of personal data could undermine our very democracy. One only has to refer to the record keeping on citizens by which the Stasi maintained their power in East Germany.

To read the full article, as featured in Lawyer Monthly, please click here.

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