MPs call for one, simplified privacy law

The All Party Parliamentary Communications Group has issued a slew of recommendations covering privacy, file-sharing, broadband speed advertising and online safety
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The UK should have a new, simple privacy law to protect citizens both online and offline, a cross-party group of parliamentarians has recommended.

On Thursday, the All Party Parliamentary Communications Group (apComms) released the findings of an inquiry entitled Can we keep our hands off the net?.

The report made 11 recommendations, the first of which was for "a green paper on privacy, with a view to bringing forward a privacy bill in the next parliament that sets out simply expressed, but far-reaching, protection for everyone's privacy in both the offline and online worlds".

The report's authors said the diversity of privacy-related laws that currently exists makes it difficult to provide citizens with effective protection. "Our current online privacy laws, such as they are, are currently scattered across numerous statutes, regulations and European Directives," they wrote in a statement.

"This hodgepodge of laws and the side-effects of complex regulations is not an ideal way to provide a legal basis for privacy. People need effective protection and they need to understand the nature of that protection."

Examples of UK laws that deal with privacy include the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Derek Wyatt MP who, along with John Robertson MP, chairs apComms, said at the Parliament and Internet conference in London on Thursday that government had to "start with first principles again" with regard to privacy legislation.

"It's going to be difficult," Wyatt said. "There are no votes in this."

The apComms report also made several other recommendations related to privacy. The group said behavioural advertising services such as Phorm should operate only on "an explicit, informed, opt-in basis".

On the subject of the ongoing consultation taking place over the issue of unlawful file-sharing, the authors recommended that the entire policy-making process should be put on hold until the EU's Telecoms Package has been finalised.

"Future policy, the report clearly states, should not include the disconnection of end users, because this is not in the slightest bit consistent with policies that attempt to promote e-government," the authors wrote.

Two recommendations in the report dealt with safety for children online. One called for online safety to be taught in the core school curriculum and for the government to "establish a national co-ordinating body to ensure that e-safety messages and teaching remain up-to-date", while the other suggested mobile network operators and retail outlets provide point-of-sale literature on e-safety for mobile phones.

"The report also recommends that, for reasons of clarity, Ofcom should ensure that child-protection filters are enabled by default for every type of mobile internet-access device, whether they be handsets or 'dongles'," the authors wrote.

The group also called on Ofcom to keep the issue of net neutrality under review, writing: "Market competition between ISPs is preventing them from discriminating against particular traffic, or demanding extra payments from content providers that wish to service their customers. However, the report does acknowledge that there could be problems in the future if there was less competition in the marketplace."

Ofcom should also regulate to require ISPs to advertise minimum guaranteed speeds for broadband connections, rather than theoretical maximum speeds, apComms recommended.

One recommendation in the report is already redundant: apComms called on the government to refrain from legislating to force ISPs to block child pornography and other content found on the Internet Watch Foundation's (IWF) list of illegal material, but the Home Office said on Wednesday it would not create new laws because ISPs had successfully self-regulated in this regard.

apComms said the government and European Commission should discuss whether the IWF, a UK organisation, should "extend its notice and take-down mechanisms to the whole world and, if not, work to establish such a global system".

The group also recommended that the law be changed to allow ISPs to proactively detect and remove inappropriate content from their services.

ISPs should also have a voluntary code for detecting and effectively dealing with malware-infected PCs, or have such a code forced on them by Ofcom, apComms said.

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