The Conservative Party has announced, as part of its manifesto for the upcoming snap election, that it plans to create a new national network to replace the Internet as a means of allowing the government full control over what is said and done online.
Following the announcement of a snap general election - for which the last day to register to vote is today, so if you haven't yet done so, stop reading this and head to the official registration site now
to register for an in-person or postal vote - the major political parties have released their manifestos, but the incumbent Conservative Party's is the one raising the most eyebrows: It contains a pledge to, effectively, ban the Internet in favour of a Chinese-style walled garden system over which the UK government can exert complete control.
'Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree,
' the party's manifesto
(PDF warning) reads, starting on Page 82 under the heading A Framework for Data and the Digital Economy.' While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide. Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits. It is in the interests of stable markets that consumers are protected from abusive behaviour, that money is able to flow freely and securely, and that competition between businesses takes place on a level playing field. It is in no-one’s interest for the foundations of strong societies and stable democracies – the rule of law, privacy and security – to be undermined.
'So we will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles. We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law. We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.
Following the publication of the manifesto, Conservative Party advisors confirmed to news outlets including Buzzfeed News
that the pledge would effectively mean that companies - including Facebook and Google - would be required to censor material which is not currently illegal at the request of the governing party, make it considerably more difficult for citizens to access pornographic content - including demanding that search engines remove all pornographic results from their services when accessed from the UK, even for perfectly legal adult entertainment sites accessed by people of legal age - give UK citizens the right to have content posted before their 18th birthday completely erased, and would be asked to promote counter-extremism narratives, the latter an effort ostensibly aimed at preventing radicalisation by terrorist groups but which could easily be abused to promote pro-government propaganda.
The only way to ensure that said companies adhere to these laws, of course, would be to ensure that UK citizens are not able to visit content that has not been approved by the government - which, in practice, would mean the introduction of a walled-garden system and the banning of virtual private network (VPN) and anonymisation services, much like the Communist Party's China.
The manifesto can be read in full in PDF format
ahead of the vote on June 8th.