Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May to launch wide-ranging internet controls aimed at 'regulating cyberspace' and giving security services more powers

  • Tories refuse to rule out Chinese-style internet censorship
  • Conservative manifesto said it wanted UK to be 'global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet'

Theresa May looks set to launch wide-ranging internet regulation and plans to fundamentally change how technology works despite not having won a majority.

In the speech in which she committed to keep governing despite calls to stand down, the prime minister made reference to extending powers for the security services.

Those powers – which include regulation of the internet and forcing internet companies to let spies read everyone's private communications – were a key part of the Conservative campaign, which failed to score a majority in the House of Commons.

In the speech, given in Downing Street after losing her majority but still looking to form a government, she laid out a series of plans that she hopes to carry out at what she called a "critical time for our country".

One of those will be "cracking down on the ideology of Islamist extremism and all those who support it," she said in the short speech. And she will also "give the police and the authorities the powers they need to keep our country safe".

That statement – one of few policy proposals in the speech – seems to be a reference to new powers to regulate what is said and read on the internet, as set out in the Conservative manifesto.

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Theresa May had already promised in the final days of the campaign to launch a worldwide plan to get "international agreements" to "regulate cyberspace". Her manifesto had laid out wide-ranging plans to regulate the internet, which included a commitment to become the "global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet".

During the election campaign, the prime minister refused to rule out Chinese-style internet censorship as part of that regulation plan, suggesting that she might look to shut down or ban companies that didn't comply with her controversial proposals.

Almost all of Ms May's plans for stopping terror have focused on internet communications, despite there being no proof that they are responsible for recent attacks. She said after the London Bridge attack that she planned four ways to stop terror, which included internet regulation alongside countering propaganda and segregation.

The Ministry of Defence’s former cyber security chief has already accused the Government of trying to “use” the devastating Westminster attack to grab unnecessary and intrusive surveillance powers.

The government has already introduced the Investigatory Powers Act. That law was passed at the end of last year and gives spies – and a range of other organisations including the Food Standards Agency and PSNI – the power to see anyone’s entire internet history, alongside other unprecedented rules.

Major General Jonathan Shaw said ministers were attempting to “use the moment” to push for security services having more control, despite there being only a weak case for it.

Experts have warned that the plans for internet regulation could in fact make life easier for terrorists.

“If successful, Theresa May could push these vile networks into even darker corners of the web, where they will be even harder to observe," wrote Jim Killock, Open Rights Groups' executive director.

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"But we should not be distracted: the internet and companies like Facebook are not a cause of this hatred and violence, but tools that can be abused.

"While governments and companies should take sensible measures to stop abuse, attempts to control the internet is not the simple solution that Theresa May is claiming."

Open Rights noted that “real solutions” would “require attempts to address the actual causes of extremism”. “Debating controls on the internet risks distracting from these very hard and vital questions,” Mr Killock wrote.

In 2015 Donald Trump called for called for the internet to be turned off, and said he would ask Bill Gates to ‘close it up’.

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