This week in Parliament, I was proud to publish a long-awaited study (PDF found here) which points the way forward for the UK to tackle eCrime and make the internet safer for everyone. Cardiff University’s academics, Professor Michael Levi and Dr. Matthew Williams, explain how we can tackle crime online or ‘eCrime’ as it’s usually known. Over the last couple of decades, the internet has grown and developed far more rapidly than anyone could have imagined; and so has its use by criminals. What we need is not a plan for how to ‘control’ or ‘run’ the internet, but how to understand, manage and frustrate the way that bad people behave online.
Two radically different social paradigms have sprung up, and each extreme has its adherents. On one end of the scale is a structure that depends on a company management system whose licence derives from a US Government Department, and a conservative or neoliberal approach – reinforced by First Amendment ‘free speech’ rights – idealises the “freedom of the Internet”. There has been an instinctive defensiveness within US politics and business saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. By the way, that used to be the approach to banking too, until we realised that it was broke – we just didn’t realise it until it was too late. Whilst the internet should be ‘free’ arena, it’s obvious that when it comes to crime in particular, that we need some kind of governance, if only so we can use the internet to its full, ‘free’ potential.
The alternative – promoted particularly by China, Brazil and some other countries – is to argue that however light the touch from one “owning government”, it is unacceptable and must be replaced by “international ownership” through a UN agency. Whatever the merits of that argument in the abstract, anyone who has observed international bureaucracy at work will harbour deep doubts as to whether any international agency could possibly have the necessary flexibility and speed of action to be able to sustain those capabilities consistently over a long period of time.
So I’m proud to have been Chair of the UK Internet Governance Forum which has had international success in finding a ‘third way’. It’s been supported by the United Nations as a neutral space where people can identify the key issues on an international platform, and work together to keep the internet a safe place that can keep evolving whilst still being inclusive of all those who use it. The eCrime report has, unsurprisingly, identified this approach as the only way we can tackle eCrime. We have to work together as governments, businesses, charities, not-for-profit organisations and through educational establishments to make sure that we can share information and stay ahead of online crime that is so elusive otherwise. We have to create Crime Reduction Partnerships to not just identify criminals and their tactics but, most importantly, prevent them from being a threat to society as a whole and to individuals wherever they live. It’s a local issues as well as an international issue – as relevant to Penarth as anywhere else in the world; to anyone who can be a victim of online crime.