Earlier this year, the UK government produced the “Online Harms White Paper,” creating a plan for a “system of accountability and oversight for tech companies.” The draft scheme put forth by the government is flawed, and these flaws prompted EFF and OTI to respond to the questions asked by the government. Ultimately, EFF and OTI felt the need to draw a line under a few crucial problems, within the bounds allowed by comment system set up by the government.

The white paper paints a very broad brush over the Internet, which is more nuanced than the paper accounts for. It has been validly criticized on a number of fronts. In our response to ten of the 18 questions posed by the government, the repeated themes were the dangers of one nation’s government asserting control over free expression across the world, the possibility that the system proposed would benefit tech giants the most, and the importance of protecting encrypted communications.

More specifically, our response included:

  • thoughts and resources surrounding due process and transparency, including the Santa Clara Principles
  • stressed a need to address the abuse of complaint systems, a dynamic the paper vastly underestimated
  • pointed out that any rules surrounding “private communications” should not require filtering or monitoring and should not compromise encrypted communications
  • the suggestion that the government give regular workshops so that small companies and start-ups can learn how to comply with regulations
  • expressed concern that industry funding of a regulator would give tech giants undue influence over the regulator and shut out smaller Internet players from the discussion
  • urged the UK government to use existing structures for international enforcement rather than risk violating international human rights law, where there are very narrow circumstances for the restriction of free expression
  • an ask that appeals be available to individuals, not just companies, when content is removed or flagged by order of the regulator

While this paper did get right the importance of user empowerment online, it fundamentally misunderstood huge parts of the online ecosystem. We hope the UK government reconsiders its proposal in light of comments like ours and the criticisms of others.

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