Government proposes ISP mediation for web takedowns

The internet needs a similar mediation service for privacy breaches as the one provided by Nominet for domain names, according to culture minister Ed Vaizey

The government will approach ISPs to discuss a mediation service for people who want to request a takedown of incorrect information held online.

The internet needs a similar mediation service for privacy breaches as the one provided by Nominet for domain names, culture minister Ed Vaizey told MPs in a parliamentary debate on Thursday. Nominet's service, which is part of the domain organisation's dispute resolution services, is informal and not legally binding.

"It is certainly worth the government brokering a conversation with the internet industry about setting up a mediation service for consumers who have legitimate concerns that their privacy has been breached or that online information about them is inaccurate or constitutes a gross invasion of their privacy to discuss whether there is any way to remove access to that information," he said.

While he expects pushback from ISPs, Vaizey said cases such as the address of a women's refuge centre in Milton Keynes being put online meant people and organisations should be able to discuss takedowns with providers.

"I am sure that many internet companies will say that [a mediation service] is almost impossible, but... one wants at least to attempt to give consumers some opportunity to have a dialogue with internet companies, as they would be able to do if a newspaper had inadvertently published that information," he said.

The Internet Service Provider's Association (ISPA) said in a statement on Monday that a mediation service could add a burden to providers.

"ISPA is concerned about the potential for any additional burden on ISPs and questions, for example, how a mediation service would work with content hosted outside the UK," said an ISPA spokesperson. "ISPA will be talking to government about the work that ISPs already do in this area and commenting in more detail when further information is announced."

The industry body added that UK ISPs already use a system of notice and takedown.

"When an ISP is notified of illegal content hosted on its network or server this content is removed expeditiously," said the spokesperson. "ISPs also have acceptable use policies and terms of service, which all users agree to adhere to. If a user is found to be in breach of these terms and conditions by acting abusively, ISPs may choose to take action by removing the content."

In Parliament on Thursday, Vaizey said that regulation needed to be balanced against the "economic force" that was the internet. He quoted a Google-sponsored study, published on Thursday, that found the internet economy is worth £100bn to the UK.

"A balance has to be struck between how we regulate the internet and protect personal privacy online on the one hand, and the fact that it is now an incredibly important economic force on the other," said Vaizey.

Google said in a statement on Thursday that, in the UK, the internet economy now represents 7.2 percent of GDP. The study, completed for the search and advertising company by the Boston Consulting Group, found that this share is likely to grow to 10 percent by 2015.

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