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Oscar Williams

News editor

Ofcom strategy chief backs calls for new oversight body for internet regulation

Ofcom’s strategy director has backed calls for a new oversight body to coordinate the regulation of the internet in the UK.

Speaking to British peers on Tuesday, Yih-Choung Teh said there were some “real attractions” to the proposition.

“I’m conscious that regulators such as us could benefit from a facilitating body who could help us with our digital capabilities and understanding,” he told the House of Lords communications committee.

Teh’s intervention comes amid fears that British regulators aren’t equipped to deal with the rise of the internet giants, and that existing regulation is not fit for purpose.

His boss, Ofcom CEO Sharon White, unveiled plans last month to set targets to force social media companies to remove harmful content within certain timeframes.

But the issue of internet regulation is not confined to content. The concentration of billions of people’s personal data in just a handful of businesses has also raised competition and data protection concerns.

Teh revealed the government was looking at how the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation could guide regulators’ work on such matters. “I think that might be a body which helps in this area with data and artificial intelligence,” he said.

In May, Doteveryone, a tech-focused think tank founded by the entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, published a green paper (pdf) setting out the case for an independent internet regulator.

“We are calling for an independent regulator that will champion new digital social
contracts and uphold common standards across government, big tech and emerging
technologies,” the authors of the green paper wrote.

“But accountability cannot be achieved by a single regulator alone. This body must bring together the tech sector, civil society, government and the public to create a system that is flexible and centred around shared human values.”

One of the key aims of the independent body would be building existing regulators’ “digital capabilities to match the tech sector so they can scrutinise the underlying technical structure of digital technologies”, the authors added.

In February, the then-digital and culture secretary Matt Hancock ruled out creating a new regulator specifically for social media, but said it was important the “regulations ensure that markets work properly and people are protected”.

The government is expected to publish a white paper on internet safety later this year.