The Data Protection Act (1998) includes legislation to protect the personal information of Internet users to ensure that they are not exploited illegally online. This is the only real legislation which exists in the UK to protect individuals from what goes on online, and it is only scratching at the surface when it comes to Internet safety. Victims of cyberbullying, websites containing illegal and indecent images of children or minors, plagiarism or illegal sharing of intellectual property, and other online content which can be considered illegal are not protected, censored or restricted in the same way that our credit card details might be, and this is causing a huge degree of controversy over Internet use.
Some Internet sites have taken it upon themselves to enforce their own rules about what can and cannot be displayed on their websites. YouTube, for instance, has a policy of reviewing every single complaint made about any one of the videos uploaded onto their platform. This is not a legal requirement but rather a company policy, and there is a concern that it is an impossible one to enforce.
One hundred hours of video content are uploaded to the site every minute, which means that there would have to be a team of at least 6,000 people continually reviewing new content for every inappropriate video to be removed immediately. YouTube is just one site which provides a platform for video content, and they have no control about the content uploaded to other similar sites. No criminal charges are made against users who do upload offensive or illegal content. Instead, their videos are taken down and their accounts may be blocked, but this is the extent of the action taken against them.
Google has responded to these anxieties by removing the autocomplete suggestions for content which infringes on piracy laws, and many Internet providers are now working with the government to block access to websites which illegally uploaded pirated films and TV series. But this is not helping individual victims of Internet crime. Instead, these companies and institutions seem to prioritise the financial protection of large corporations when it comes to Internet regulations.
An increasing amount of terrorist propaganda can be found online which supports terrorist organisations and promotes extremist views and actions. Censoring or removing this content is seen by many to violate an individual’s right to the freedom of speech. Some content clearly breaks other laws, and this is much easier to have removed, but many people believe the Internet should provide a platform for everyone’s beliefs, no matter how controversial or offensive they might be, and that restrictions should therefore not be put in place.
When it comes to illegal sexual content which is found online, the distributors do often face criminal charges. But prosecuting the perpetrators after the event does nothing to protect Internet users from coming across the content in the first place. This is the reason that many supporters of Internet censorship and the restriction of content available online are calling for stricter laws to be put in place when it comes to what is available on the Internet.
The Internet is such a huge resource, and there is so much content out there that it is an incredibly daunting task to try to decide what is and is not appropriate. But this should not be a reason to stop governments from attempting to protect their public and from doing their best to at least put legislation in place to set some boundaries for what is and is not acceptable to publish.