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Clear principles for digital regulation, but is a digital regulator required?

Clear principles for digital regulation, but is a digital regulator required?

As the pressure for a regulatory response to platform power grows, report raises questions over the role of a new regulatory body

An influential committee of the UK House of Lords has just published a report, Regulating in a Digital World, following two years of hearings. The report recommends the adoption of ten principles for digital regulation, along with some useful definitions. These include “parity”: requiring equal protection whether on or offline, and “accountability”: processes which ensure individuals and organisations are held to account. Many, such as the “recognition of childhood" and “respect for human rights and equality” are uncontroversial. Some may raise eyebrows. “Ethical design” requires that services “must act in the interests of users and society”. The report is nuanced on the subject of transparency, pointing out that the mass release of data, in which important information might be buried, can have the effect of obstructing rather than enabling openness.

The tail, however, contains the sting. “Policy-makers across different sectors have not responded adequately to changes in the digital world”, and: “We recommend that a new body, which we call the Digital Authority, should be established to co-ordinate regulators in the digital world.” The proposal is for the body to oversee platforms and enforce, among other things a duty of care responsibility, as well as co-ordinating regulatory responses in areas where there are felt to be gaps. The authority could have the power to issue instructions to regulators, extend regulatory powers and to create new structures. The idea has received a cautiously positive response from executives at Ofcom, the UK communications regulator.

The question is, how far should these powers extend? There are certainly gaps in the current regulatory structures. But IIC members have tended to favour a solution along the lines of "distributed collaboration", and perhaps a new body would be better used for that? We’ll find out in a few weeks’ time, when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is due to publish its own proposals.

andrea millwood hargraveAndrea Millwood Hargrave,
Director General, International Institute of Communications

  • Tuesday, 19 March 2019

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