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House of Lords says government should create Digital Authority to oversee all regulators


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

March 10, 2019 | 4 min read

The House of Lords has called on the UK government to create a central 'Digital Authority' to take responsibility for regulating the myriad watchdogs already operating in the space.


A report from the communications committee has recommended the creation of a digital 'super-regulator'

A report from the communications committee has recommended the creation of a digital 'super-regulator' to help co-ordinate existing regulators, and recommend new powers.

Noting that more than a dozen bodies — including the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Information Commissioners' Office (ICO) — have a remit that covers digital, the Lords have told government that the Digital Authority would be "an internal centre of expertise on digital trends which helps to scan the horizon for emerging risks and gaps in regulation".

In theory, it would also help regulators implement the law "effectively and in the public interest".

The report detailed 10 guiding principles that would dictate the new super-regulator, including: accountability, privacy, transparency, human rights and protections for children.

The Lords also said they want the government to enforce a general "duty of care" among internet companies, requiring them to take "reasonable" steps to prevent harm.

With issues such as brand safety and ad fraud continuing to plague the digital space, along with data breaches and the spread of fake news, the Lords see the Digital Authority as a force for implementing change at the highest level.

The advice also comes against the backdrop of a growing call for greater online regulation from the UK government.

Just last month, a Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins accused Facebook of being operated by "digital gangsters". The group recommended that tech and social media firms be subject to "independent regulation" in the form of a ‘code of ethics’ modeled on that overseen by Ofcom.

The Lords' report echoed this sentiment, outlining how self-regulation from the likes of Facebook and Google was "clearly failing".

"Policy-makers across different sectors have not responded adequately to changes in the digital world," wrote Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chairman of the committee.

"The Digital Authority should be empowered to instruct regulators to address specific problems or areas. In cases where this is not possible because problems are not within the remit of any regulator, the Digital Authority should advise the Government and Parliament that new or strengthened legal powers are needed," he added.

In addition, Gilbert called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he asserted.

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