internetWe’ve been discussing the issue of internet regulation in some depth on Debating Europe (see previous posts here, here and here). There’s a lot of interest around this topic, with a Wikipedia black-out against SOPA last month and protests in several European countries just this weekend against ACTA (an international anti-counterfeiting agreement). In our comments, there has been almost unanimous agreement that the EU should not be involved in regulating the internet (and our Facebook poll on the subject had similar results).

Broadly speaking, the new internet rules currently being debated by governments can be divided into two camps. Firstly, there are agreements like ACTA designed to prevent the illegal downloading of music, films, books, computer games, etc. One of our commenters, Ozcan, left a comment arguing that “nobody wants to pay for anything anymore [and] that is a very bad thing. Governments should protect our [property].

The second kind of legislation is designed to protect citizens (and their personal data) from some of the dangers they may face online; both from internet criminals and from unethical corporations abusing their data. The EU’s draft data protection regulation falls into this second camp. Some of our users, however, argue that individuals should be responsible for what they upload online, not governments. Alex, for example, argues that governments “can start with better computer-literacy classes for both youth and adults, [teaching people] that there aren’t Nigerian princes that randomly [find] you and want to give you 10 million pounds.”

We had a comment sent in along similar lines from PJ, arguing that “no-one should be attempting to regulate or control the internet but there are laws and, if broken, normal processes should apply. As for personal data, any data provided is totally voluntary.“ Nikolai, meanwhile, left a comment saying “I am an adult and do not need nannying by legislators who probably know far less than I do about the Internet.“ Is such a laissez-faire approach to internet regulation really sensible, though? We heard similar arguments made about financial markets before the 2008 crisis.

We recently spoke to Prof. Christopher Millard, Professor of Privacy and Information Law at Queen Mary at the University of London, and asked him if he had any sympathy with the argument that it is the individual’s responsibility to keep their data safe:

On the other hand, Professor Millard also argued against the idea that the internet is “unregulable” because technology simply moves too quickly. You can see his response to that argument in the video below.

Last year, we also interviewed Richard Allan – Facebook’s director of policy in Europe – and raised some of these issues with him. We asked him how “Individual-to-individual” dispute resolution mechanisms might work to resolve disagreements online without needing to involving government intervention.

We also recently spoke to Professor Martin Selmayr, Head of Cabinet of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and the EU Commissioner responsible for drafting the data-protection legislation. We raised a criticism with him that had been sent in by several readers: do legislators really understand the technology they are trying to regulate? Can the internet really be “regulated” and will the proposals actually have any practical impact?

Finally, we also took the opportunity to get Martin Selmayr’s reaction to a comment we’d received from a Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Sophie in ‘t Veld, when we interviewed her recently:

I note that the US authorities have been very active in the drafting of certain internet regulations in the EU. That they engage in debate when it’s on the table is fine. But that they are actually involved in drafting it… I think the EU should be a bit more mature and defend the interests of its own citizens more. I love and admire the US, and I think it is a great nation and our closest friend and ally, but we should be a bit more assertive sometimes. Are we going to be as complacent if China does the same?

Here’s Martin Selmayr’s reaction:

What do YOU think? Should governments protect us online from the abuse of our personal data? Do we need greater regulation of privacy rules around, for example, social-networking sites? Or should individuals take greater responsibility for what they post online, and should we adopt a laissez-faire attitude to privacy rules? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Steve Rhode

13 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Capatina Nicusor

    Well….say NO to ACTA.And i belive the online protection is the newest form of education and should be taught in schools.Our governments must not be so involved with our personal lives

    • Anas

      The government shulod regulate the usage of the personal data or what data can be collected from different providers, andf no more further steps. After all at the final stage everyone of us is responsable for its own data exposure or utilisation. But not to put everything under a law..then it finishes like living in a virtual Cage where laws will interfere everywhere.

  2. Astrit Disha

    The government should regulate the usage of the personal data or what data can be collected from different providers, andf no more further steps. After all at the final stage everyone of us is responsable for its own data exposure or utilisation. But not to put everything under a law..then it finishes like living in a virtual Cage where laws will interfere everywhere.

  3. Yama Dúd

    there is no kind of protection we need, anyway, thanks for the government(s) concern.. thanks, again, keep up

  4. Adrian G. Mowrey

    No. We need the Governments to provide even more freedom for us Online. They will have to provide affordable services. Why am I paying for a book full price? I invested lots of money on bad books. They had great presentation/marketing…and then I realized that it’s crap. You stole my money instead of offering what you promised in that presentation… give me the flexibility, otherwise replication will always happen…

  5. Adrian G. Mowrey

    I’m nit the only one in this situation. Come to my house and get the thousands worth books that I invested in and aren’t good at all. Colleges especially offered us expensive and dumb books that teach you nothing of what you truly need. On top of that they debate six-seven chapters and that’s all. For what did I pay $150?

  6. Nikolai Holmov

    Firstly I am happy to see Prof. Christopher Millard singing from the same song sheet I am.

    In a different thread on this same subject, an EU mandarin also agreed with me that “Right to be forgotten” is simply unworkable, so why is it in the framework legislation?

    Next, Martin Selmayr tries to present a loose, elastic, unspecific framework as a positive when it is that same loose, elastic unspecific framework that caused me to sign the ACTA petition along with nearly 2 million other people to dump such loose elastic wording as that is precisely the problem.

    There is always wiggle room in any law, no matter how tightly it initially seems and that wriggle room is often used by governments, companies and villains to their own best advantage at an often significant loss to society.

    If the EU Head of Cabinet does not understand that the wriggle room in this proposed ACTA format is as potentially disastrous as a single monetary policy without a symbiotic fiscal policy then he lives in a parallel universe.

    Laws are supposed to be written blind to future events and without bias to current ones. This current ACTA proposal was neither subject to public scrutiny, public input (other than vested corporate interests) and is so broad in scope it barely has any focus at all.

    As for the US being involved in EU drafting of laws, when the Obama Administration have already publicly stated it will never put ACTA to congress for ratification, you seriously have to question to whose benefit will it be it the EU ratifies and the US will not? It would be a one-way street (again).

    I seriously wonder about the caliber of people running the EU sometimes and this is most definitely one of those times.

    When the EU seems devoid of genuine luminary leadership, a serious deficit in the imagination department, and a rapidly growing legitimacy gap between the EU and its citizens, when 2 million sign a petition stating ACTA is a step too far, millions protest in the streets of various nations, and in short it is the biggest reaction to anything EU has proposed by the common man/woman/child, why oh why do they insist on trying to push a seriously flawed idea through such an opaque formulating process?

    Allow me to give the EU hierarchy a clue. Because you hold high office, it does not give you the monopoly on good ideas. Or bad ones. And this is a bad one right up there with some of your very worst.

    I am so glad I live in Ukraine, a nation that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of joining such a mind-numbingly ever autocratic and technocratic institution in the near future.

    (Now that’s something I didn’t think I would say as a historically fairly pro-EU Brit!)

  7. awbMaven

    “Should governments protect us online from the abuse of our personal data?”

    Government’s should aid citizens, and this includes protecting citizens online from the abuse of our personal data.

    Governments should empower citizens and enhance a citizens’ freedoms (such as speech and expression).

    Governments should seek advice & input from it’s citizens directly and from Civil society organisations, and if there are negotiating rounds concerning proposed legislations (an example being ACTA), Civil society should be involved in ALL aspects of the negotiations and have FULL access to all that is being discussed.

    “Do we need greater regulation of privacy rules around, for example, social-networking sites? Or should individuals take greater responsibility for what they post online, and should we adopt a laissez-faire attitude to privacy rules?”

    Privacy rules should be standardised and social-networking sites (as well as other businesses) should choose a privacy rule template from those on offer.

    Privacy rule templates should be created by legislators & Civil society organisations in negotiations with business.

    There are too many EULA (End User Licence Agreements) [which include privacy rules], etc, and citizens do not have the time or often inclination to wade through yet another mamouth unique EULA. Citizens often just tick the box and carry on, not knowing the details of the EULA.

    In my view, it is imperative that EU-wide privacy rule templates be created and organisations that wish to operate in the EU should be mandated to choose one template that best suites their desires.

  8. awbMaven

    @Nikolai Holmov:

    “Next, Martin Selmayr tries to present a loose, elastic, unspecific framework as a positive when it is that same loose, elastic unspecific framework that caused me to sign the ACTA petition along with nearly 2 million other people to dump such loose elastic wording as that is precisely the problem.

    There is always wiggle room in any law, no matter how tightly it initially seems and that wriggle room is often used by governments, companies and villains to their own best advantage at an often significant loss to society.

    If the EU Head of Cabinet does not understand that the wriggle room in this proposed ACTA format is as potentially disastrous as a single monetary policy without a symbiotic fiscal policy then he lives in a parallel universe.”

    Or worse, that the EU is hand-in-glove with the villains. By their actions let they be judged, and judging from the EU Commissions (CION) actions, they are ‘for’ business and ‘against’ the people. “Transparency” has not been transparent, it has been partial transparency.

    Civil society has not had a deep role in the negotiations of ACTA, business by comparison, has. Even the European Parliament is handed heavily redacted key documents re. ACTA yet CION still insists negotiations have been transparent.

    Legislation should be concise and specific. No amount of snake-oil-salesmanship can vanish the facts when it is not. the Law of Unintended Consequences thrive on vague laws.

  9. smartness

    No, we do not need governments to protect us online. We are adults with international rights, not children. The government should not take on the role of a nanny. The government’s so called “protection” more often than not turns out to be government sponsored thought control.

  10. Ben

    Governments will never be able to regulate the entire internet, it is a endless task to moderate it and by aiming to do so governments set themselves goals that are effectively impossible.
    If governments want to protect people online the best way to go about this is to educate people to use their common sense when online, If someone goes on the internet they should be aware that they run the risk of happening across content that they probably don’t want to see.

required
required Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

More debates from this series – Arguments for and against EU data protection rules View all