On one side of the Atlantic, President Trum,) via his acolytes Ajit Pai and the GOP Congress, is attempting to get the government out of the internet regulating business (according to them) by dismantling net neutrality. While on the other side of the pond, in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May is promising just the opposite – the government is angling to get more involved.
If May has her way, some internet giants will do the bidding of the UK government. This is occurring in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Great Britain, and is the latest attempt by governments worldwide to try to control what may be uncontrollable.
Her new counter-terror strategy aims to, at the very least, fine tech companies such as Facebook and Google if they do not step up efforts to combat the proliferation of mainly Islamic extremist content, which she believes is fomenting the terror attacks. Regulating extremist content online is a measured, and some believe politically-inspired, move, because the terror attacks at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and on London Bridge both occurred during the general election campaign.
May is all more strident on the issue now, because it is believed in some quarters that her government’s inability to prevent the attacks cost her and her party the majority she sought in parliament, and may have put her leadership in jeopardy. May accused the big internet companies of giving terrorist ideology “the safe space it needs to breed” online, and vowed to regulate cyberspace and thus keep the extremist hatred that appears in it from metastasizing.
It will be interesting to see how the major tech companies respond to the “national security” knee-jerk reaction from May who, incidentally, has found an eager supporter in France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron. France is no stranger to terrorist attacks, and Macron is only too happy to be on the right side of this issue after witnessing May’s embarrassment at the polls.
The tech companies have already taken voluntary steps to enforce a plethora of rules to thwart the spread of online propaganda ,and the like. But many bureaucrats dismiss these efforts, saying they are inadequate, and amount to nothing more than window dressing.
That may be so because, as yet, not much has been codified into law to prompt stricter compliance. So, a big question will be how technology firms react when they must legally comply with removing illicit content. And then there is the practicality of complying, when there is such a massive amount of content being posted each minute. From their perspective, if the legal mandates are too great, it might be physically and economically unfeasible to comply.
Take, for example, the thorny issue of encryption. We’ve explored this issue in many articles. What comes up time after time is the fact that companies can’t crack end-to-end encryption themselves, even if they wanted to. And then there is the issue of security. If companies create backdoors for governments, they will be vulnerable to access by the bad actors.
It should be noted that, in her time as home secretary, May opposed the free availability of end-to-end encryption. But it is a key feature in most major communications platforms, including Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s Messenger and Google’s Allo and WhatsApp. And it is the reason that smaller services such as Telegram and Signal, which use this secure communications technology, are so popular among ordinary people.
Usually, the tech companies don’t like to ruffle governmental feathers, and seek to compromise and thus maintain their profit margins. But, if this latest May-led initiative, which is woefully short on specifics at this time, gains traction and is deemed too burdensome, or worse – impossible to adhere to – what then?
So, the burning question is whether the technology companies will roll over and comply, or fight the requirements to the bitter end? The answer to this question may determine Theresa May’s political future.