The details of the Digital Charter were not published by the start of 2019, beyond a broad outline policy paper. The Charter is described as ‘a rolling programme of work to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice’ and as ‘based on liberal values that cherish freedom, but not the freedom to harm others’. Priorities under the work programme include disinformation, online harms and cyber security. The development of the Charter is being undertaken collaboratively with industry, business and civil society.
White Paper on Online Harms
The Government’s White Paper, published in April 2019, calls for a new system of regulation for tech companies with the goal of preventing online harm. In brief, the paper (which outlines government proposals for consultation in advance of passing new legislation) calls for an independent regulator that will draw up codes of conduct for tech companies, outlining their new statutory “duty of care” towards their users, with the threat of penalties for non-compliance including heavy fines, naming and shaming, the possibility of being blocked, and personal liability for managers. It describes its approach as risk based and proportionate.The White Paper is the joint responsibility of DCMS and the Home Office.
UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS)
This new organisation will bring together more than 200 organisations representing government, regulators, industry, law enforcement, academia and charities, working together to keep children safe online. This builds on the work of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) that was previously in operation.
In an answer in the House of Lords on 4 December 2018 to Baroness Benjamin about UKCIS funding, Lord Ashton of Hyde confirmed the five focus areas of the body: online harms experienced by children; radicalisation and extremism; violence against women and girls; serious violence; hate crime and hate speech.
(See also a paper by Dr Victoria Baines: ‘Online child sexual exploitation: Towards an optimal international response.’ Available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3240998)
Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation
This is a new institution set up by Government, to ‘advise the government on how to enable and ensure ethical, safe and innovative uses of data, including for AI. It will work with, and advise, Government and existing regulators’. It will sit within DCMS for the first two years before being set up as a statutory body. It was established following a public consultation designed to inform its operations and priorities. For the 2019-20 period it is conducting two large-scale reviews, on targeting and bias, which the consultation identified as priorities.
Protecting the debate: Intimidation, influence, and information (Cabinet Office consultation)
This consultation aimed to crack down on threats and abuse towards those standing for election. It also looked at the issue of 'whether the requirement to have imprints, which is added to election material to show who is responsible for producing it, should be extended to digital communications’.
It published this response to its consultation in May 2019:
Digital competition expert panel
Chaired by Professor Jason Furman, the expert panel’s objectives were to consider the potential opportunities and challenges the digital economy may pose for competition and pro-competition policy, and to make recommendations on any changes needed. This is a joint HM Treasury/Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy initiative. The panel reported in March 2019 following a public consultation, concluding that tech giants have become increasingly dominant and ministers must open the market up to increase consumer choice and give people greater control over their data.
Press sustainability: The Cairncross review
The review, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, was established to investigate the sustainability of the UK press market. To inform the review, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned academic research from Mediatique to look specifically at the changing state of the press market. The panel reported in February 2019, with recommendations including direct public funding for public interest news and the establishment of a new code of conduct between publishers and large tech companies,overseen by a regulator.
Described as a single flagship for Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and data science in defence to be based at Dstl (Defence, Science and Technology laboratory) in Porton Down. Countering fake news is included in the list of work that the Lab will engage in.
National Security Communications Unit
Announced in January 2018, this initiative has been tasked with ‘combating disinformation by state actors and others’, according to a Government spokesman.
It will continue its operations in 2019: