Conservatives promise new internet user protections

Theresa May says election manifesto will include new obligations on web platforms, along with maintained commitment digital government services

New protections for website users will form part of the Conservative manifesto, according to a pre-publication statement on some of its content.

Theresa MayPrime Minister Theresa May has unveiled a raft of promised “digital entitlements” in advance of the document’s publication this week.

The most eye catching is a new right for web users to order platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to delete their records from before they reached adulthood. It would prevent people experiencing the embarrassment of pictures they took as children, or posts they regretted writing, coming back to haunt them.

Sites will also be required not to direct browsers unintentionally to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm.

In addition, firms will be obliged to take down any inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content reported to them or provide an explanation of why not.

Social media levy

The Tories will put into law the power to impose an industry-wide levy on social media companies if they fail to reform, to pay for better awareness of potential dangers online.

May also indicated that the general direction of travel to digitising government services would continue, with all being “fully accessible online”, assistance for users when necessary and a presumption of “digital by default”.

In addition, there is a commitment to release all non-sensitive publicly owned data as open data whenever possible.

The list of new entitlements also included a package aimed at business, including:

  • A right to insist on a digital signature.
  • A right to digital cancellation of contracts.
  • An obligation to provide digital receipts when selling goods and services online.
  • Government support for the roll out of new digital proofs of identification.

The Prime Minister said: “We are prepared to face up to the big long term challenges facing this country. The internet has brought a wealth of opportunity, but also significant new risks which have evolved faster than society’s response to them.

“These measures will help make Britain the best place in the world to start and run a digital business, and the safest place in the world for people to be online.” 

Broadband issue

The promises also included “an entitlement to be connected to low cost and fast broadband connections, wherever you live in the country”.

However, the Government recently defeated an attempt to force much faster broadband speeds in hard-to-reach areas, as the general election was called. A 2020 deadline for the beefed up universal service obligation (USO) to be introduced was also dropped, when Parliament was wound up three years early.

The House of Lords had amended the Digital Economy Bill – to demand minimum download speeds of 30Mbps, rather than 10Mbps pledged by ministers – but gave way in order to secure the passage of the bill.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0