Gov't committee launches ISP regulation inquiry

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Communications will consider whether ISPs should be regulated over issues such as internet crime and privacy
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

An inquiry into possible regulation of the ISP industry has been launched by a government committee.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Communications (apComms) launched the inquiry on Wednesday. The group will try to decide whether internet service provision should be regulated, and examine issues such as deep packet inspection and behavioural advertising.

Existing European legislation provides ISPs with some immunity for traffic flowing over their networks, granting them 'mere conduit' status, along with protections for 'hosting' and 'caching'. The committee will debate whether this legislation is still appropriate.

"Now the internet is part of daily life, concerns are increasingly raised about a wide range of online privacy issues," read a post on the apComms website. "Should there be changes to individual behaviour? Should companies be pressed to prioritise privacy issues? Or is there a need for specific regulations that go beyond mere 'data protection' and address privacy directly?"

Behavioural-advertising company Phorm, which has been accused of infringing user privacy by organisations including the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said it welcomed the inquiry.

"We look forward to working with the group, some of whose members we have met in the last year," Phorm said in a statement on Wednesday. "We will be happy to explain the enormous potential of Phorm's internet advertising service with its industry-leading privacy standards."

The committee has called for submissions on five questions surrounding internet provision, including whether internet service providers (ISPs) should be forced to act to deal with some types of internet traffic, such as spam and malware.

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) told ZDNet UK on Thursday that it would be submitting written evidence to the inquiry and would argue for self-regulation.

"ISPA supports self-regulation in most instances," said an ISPA spokesperson. "Regulation should only be explored when other avenues have been exhausted."

The spokesperson said that, as yet, ISPA had no unified opinion on behavioural advertising. "At the moment there are differing views across stakeholders about [behavioural advertising] — there's been a fair amount of discussion," said the spokesperson. "ISPA members have been meeting about it, but we don't have a specific opinion as yet."

Opponents to behavioural advertising, such as campaigner Alexander Hanff, have attacked Phorm over perceived breaches of privacy. Earlier this month, the web giant Amazon said it would not allow its website to be monitored by Phorm.

The European Commission has also started legal proceedings against the UK over its lack of action following BT's trials of Phorm in 2006 and 2007.

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