Maria Miller's speech to the Oxford Media Convention, 26 February 2014
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rights and Responsibilities of the Internet Age
This year is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, and it is truly extraordinary – I think – that it was only such a short time ago that Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN made that first thought connection that changed the world.
Our creative industries are the fastest growing sector of the UK economy. The internet is a key part of this fastest growing sector. We have to get the internet right if we’re going to get the creative industries right. We have to foster the internet we want.
For most of us, the internet is now an intrinsic part of our lives. And for your industry in particular, it has had and will continue to have a transformative impact. It is revolutionising the business models for how content is created, shared and monetised. The future of the internet matters, so we want to foster the sort of internet that adds value to content and that adds value to our creative industries.
I want to reflect this afternoon on the transformative impact the internet has had for freedom of expression. Be that political, cultural or personal – the internet has given us all a voice and an audience.
That is a powerful change. A force for good. A force for liberation. A force for democracy. We have to protect that. So I also want to talk about the responsibility we all have for nurturing this phenomenal technology – to ensure it remains a force that improves and enriches peoples lives.
The responsibility we have for protecting the openness, innovation and security – that underpin it.
Open, so everyone can access the internet and enjoy the opportunities it provides.
Innovative, so technological development can keep pace with human creativity.
Secure, so that the infrastructure is robust and our data – whether personal or IP – is protected and we keep the most vulnerable people safe. I am sure we have all been struck by the role the internet and social media has played in world affairs from the Arab Spring to bringing to light the horrors in Syria.
The internet has made the world accessible and given every individual the possibility of access to a global audience. The internet has provided enormous opportunities in delivering public services such remote education and e-health, or even just renewing your car tax.
Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are opening up education to the world. Farmers in Ghana are saving time and money by using their smartphones to trade their products before they go to market. None of this would be possible without the internet.
An internet for life
And it is not only at the high-end of human endeavour that the internet has changed our lives. For our children it is fundamental part of their world. Fewer than one in ten children in the UK do not use the internet at all. Most research and do their homework online. They watch TV or films, play games and use social media. The devices they use and location for these things may change, but the constant is the role of the internet.
This is no different for adults. Many of us also choose to spend leisure time on social media, gaming with friends, downloading or streaming films and music or sharing our own content.
So for the avoidance of doubt, let me make my starting point clear – and perhaps Government doesn’t say this enough - the internet and all that it has done for us in the past, and all that I think it will do for us in the future is – overwhelmingly – a very good thing indeed.
The internet is one of the great enablers for Freedom of Expression. It is the equivalent of the invention of the printing press many hundreds of years ago.
This freedom is the cornerstone of British democracy. And it drives our creativity, our culture, our economy and equality.
Rights and Responsibilities
But Freedom of Expression doesn’t just happen because the technology allows it. It is in our DNA. It is something that we must all actively nurture and protect through our actions and behaviour.
We have a responsibility to work together to ensure that everyone can approach the internet excited about what we can learn, what we can find, not frightened of where it might lead us.
So how should we approach this responsibility?
The starting point, I would suggest, is a straightforward principle.
The internet isn’t a ‘Second Life’, it isn’t something where different rules apply, where different behaviour is acceptable – it isn’t the wild west.
To put it simply the rules that apply offline are the same rules that apply online.
The same rules offline also apply online.
This is at its most clear when it comes to the law. If something is illegal offline, it is illegal online. We have laws in this country to protect our freedom… it is no different online.
Whether it is images of child abuse or terrorist material we will use the full force of the law, national and international, to take down that content and pursue the perpetrators.
If you have vilely insulted, or threatened to attack someone in person on the street, you do so expecting to be arrested and probably charged.
The same already applies on social media.
The legislation is already in place. And we have the guidelines by the Attorney General on contempt of court - and the Director of Public Prosecution’s on prosecutions involving social media communications – put together they present a strong and durable framework.
As the recent imprisonment of two people for the abuse suffered by Caroline Criado-Perez shows, being online does not mean the law doesn’t apply to you. And the law is being used. Last year 2000 people were prosecuted for sending electronic communications that were grossly offensive or menacing.
In tackling child abuse online, the new National Crime Agency is bringing greater resources to bare. Last month Operation Endeavour resulted in 46 arrests across 14 countries, demonstrating the NCA’s global reach. And yes, of course, there will be challenges of jurisdiction on the internet. But the internet is not the only space where working across borders presents legal challenges.
There are many countries that have sought to regulate the internet in ways that we would not consider, but I think you’ll agree that the debate has moved on from whether it can be done, to what is the responsible way for all of us – individuals, industry and state – to foster the web we want.
In other areas we don’t argue the law should not apply because it is difficult. And we will continue to work with other Governments and law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators of serious online crime to justice, where ever they are.
The Sensible Consumer
But society is not only governed by laws.
We have social and ethical responsibilities for our own behaviour as well -online, just as we do offline. Freedom of Expression, creativity, entrepreneurship – these are repressed, not enhanced, by failing to treat people fairly, or with respect. We want the reassurance of knowing we are protected online, but equally we must be responsible for our own actions. The veil of anonymity the internet provides may be valuable but does not give licence to insult, cheat or exploit.
And the responsibility we take for our own and others’ belongings equally apply online.
You wouldn’t leave your front door unlocked with a handy map pinned to it, showing where you kept your valuables. So why use the word ‘password123’ as your on-line banking password?
If you wanted to see a film or listen to a CD, you wouldn’t sneak into a shop and steal it off the shelf, so why do the online equivalent and download it illegally?
It’s about good citizenship… as well as what’s legal and what’s not.
Changes can be made
And we already know that when the industry and Government work together we can make changes. We know that work can be done to enhance the protections that we see online. An example of this is the steps forward we have made with child internet safety.
The work that ISPs have done since last summer to deliver on filtering is a great example of a responsible industry supporting the people who use it to have the confidence in the internet.
And it works, not least because we’ve been able to demonstrate that the solutions to these problems are not always best arrived at through more regulation. But I am also clear that technological tools, can only ever go so far. Parents have – and understand that they have – a responsibility to know what our kids are up to, and help guide those choices. As parents, we know that when it comes to our parental responsibilities there is no substitute for talking to our children about the difficult challenges and the difficult decisions they have got to make. Industry must help us take responsibility and give us the information and tools to navigate this landscape. To allow us to make sensible choices about where we go and what we do and help to guide our children too.
That is why I so welcome the industry’s £25 million a year awareness campaign to help parents keep their children safe online.
Common Media Standards
Many of you are working at the cutting edge of these issues and realise you are facing more technical and legal challenges.
The advent of new technology from smartphones to tablets is changing the way we access media content online – from news, to celebrity gossip, to our favourite TV shows.
Different media are governed by different rules –we expect impartial news coverage on a TV news bulletin, but not so on social media where people are actively seeking personal viewpoints.
We expect traditional broadcast television to meet a ‘gold standard’ of accuracy and quality, whereas when we view a user-generated video online we know to be more circumspect.
But with people old and young alike increasingly able to access not only broadcast channels on their TV, but hundreds of YouTube channels, as well as videos on social media, in just a few presses of the family remote, it can be unclear to consumer which standards apply and to parents what broadcasting controls apply, if any.
It is important that viewers can be confident about what they are getting at the press of a button.
This works both ways. If the viewer is confident, then businesses can be too, and that can only be a good thing, which is why so many of you – from the BBC to YouTube - are already active in signalling to consumers – for example, the age appropriateness of material.
I think there is a responsibility to help make this clearer still.
I would like industry and regulators to come together to assess how they can most effectively give consumers clarity about the standards that apply across different platforms, and how they complain if those standards are not met.
That is why I have asked Ofcom to kick-start this work, and I look forward to seeing how that progresses.
Transparent media standards will help deal with the world as it is today rather than the world pre-internet.
Setting the standard
Your industry is at the cutting edge too, of demonstrating how behaving responsibly online can be rewarded. The standards and sensibilities that the media industry brings to creating content on line – whether news, kid’s entertainment or programming – is setting the bar for quality and driving consumer confidence online. Far from being a race to the bottom, the high standards of broadcasters become a valuable selling point for online content in the future.
Brands such as the BBC are becoming an important navigation tool for consumers looking for sources of content they can trust, and I know many of you here have worked hard to develop your reputation and relationship with consumers. For instance the work Channel 4 has done to create an award-winning data strategy that has allowed it to evolve its business model through a deeper understanding of its customer base, but with a ‘Viewer Promise’ that gives viewers transparency and control over their data.
This leads me onto the next area of challenge for industry.
Data as Currency
Information – or data, if you prefer – is the currency of the internet. Part of what I’m talking about today – quite a large part, actually – is the need for all of us to have clarity about the impact of the choices we make. This includes choices we make about our personal data when it comes to the internet
Understanding the value we and others place on it, how we spend this currency, what we are being sold, and at what cost.
Of course commercial broadcasters have been doing something similar for decades – viewers accept TV advertising as the trade for programmes they want. Personal data is the next evolutionary step.
The explosion of data as currency is not necessarily a bad thing. It delivers tremendous choice to consumers, allows us to access a huge range of content free at the point of consumption, and provides a level of convenience we could not have dreamed of a few years ago. I think of the App that tells where the nearest bus stop is, which buses go there and when the next one will arrive. Amazing.
But we must be intelligent consumers. We must understand the price we are paying for this extraordinary service. We’ve all experienced it. Ads for restaurants popping that seem spookily close where we are. Spotify or Amazon suggesting songs or books we might like. And we do!
We need to recognise that a commercial transaction has taken place – that our details, location and preferences, have been bought and sold and that is the cost of the convenience we want.
Using data intelligently has the capacity to transform how the public sector delivers services and reaches the most hard to reach groups, to drive medical research and inspire market-changing products and services – such as the work by Channel 4 I mentioned earlier.
What’s more, this virtual marketplace creates thousands of new jobs.
But, I go back to the principles of openness, innovation and security. If we are going to reap the benefits that an open, innovative internet can deliver, we must have confidence that our engagement with it is secure.
Data is a driver for growth and creativity. I believe that transparency is essential if consumers are to feel safe and empowered by the use internet, and the data that flows across it.
Good progress is being made here. For example the Ad Choices self-regulatory work on transparency means consumers can now not only see which advertising networks use their data, they can opt out of targeted behavioural advertising if they wish. Just as TV advertising sits within a proportionate regulatory framework, so too must the use of personal data.
We must continue to negotiate solutions. In the EU we are negotiating a new data protection framework which must reflect the realities of modern enterprise if they to deliver economic growth, promote the use of open data and protect citizen’s rights.
Let me conclude where I started, by saying that the internet is an incredible invention that has opened up our world.
But we are wrong to say this is a different world, where different rules of personal behaviour apply. The opportunities an open, innovative and secure internet have given us are precious. We must not crush it with thoughtless, harmful behaviour, the naked pursuit of profit, or overly burdensome regulation. And I am confident that our approach – self regulation first, regulation only where necessary – is the right one.
I look forward to working with you to promote an environment that preserves what we value, both online and offline - Freedom of Expression, creativity and prosperity.