Cloud computing providers could be subject to a set of sweeping new laws designed to purge the internet of child abuse and terrorist propaganda, it has emerged.
Under proposals published on Monday, executives at cloud giants, such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as social media firms and search engines, would be personally liable for failing to block sites which fall foul of the new rules.
The internet oversight regime, outlined in an “online harms” white paper, will establish an independent regulator with powers to enforce a duty of care and specific codes of practice.
The measures come as pressure mounts on politicians to rein in the internet giants amid concerns they are not doing enough to crack down on illegal content hosted on their platforms.
Speaking at the launch of the white paper at the British Library this morning, Sajid Javid said tech companies had failed to self-regulate and were complicit in inciting criminal material.
“In September, I warned the web giants that keeping our children safe is my number one priority as Home Secretary,” he said. “But it’s clear that the industry as a whole has not done anywhere near enough. So, as promised, I am now forcing them to do so.”
It is not yet clear how the regulation will apply to different businesses, but the government said it would “ensure a proportionate approach and avoid being overly burdensome”.
However, some commentators have warned that the rules risk creating a legislative framework for a far-reaching censorship regime. “The government’s proposals would create state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens,” said executive director of Open Rights Group Jim Killock.
“We have to expect that the duty of care will end up widely drawn with serious implications for legal content, that is deemed potentially risky, whether it really is nor not.”
The decision to establish an internet regulator marks a U-turn for the government. Speaking to the BBC last year, Matt Hancock – the then digital and culture secretary – said “if you tried to bring in a new regulator [for social media], you’d end having up to regulate everything”.
Vinuous Ali, head of policy at industry trade body TechUK, said: “The publication of the white paper is a significant step forward, but with many key questions still open for consultation there is still a long way to go to achieve the Governments ambition of creating a world leading framework to combat online harms.
“The tech sector is committed to working with Government and others to achieve this ambition. But, delivering this framework will not be easy and won’t be achieved if difficult problems and trade-offs are ignored.”
The consultation on the white paper will close on 1 July.