The internet has been a force for radical change that has touched virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Everything from how we plan our travels abroad, to how we purchase the clothes we wear to how we share information and memories with the people we care about have been transformed by one internet innovation after the other. The horizon of change is continually being pushed out further than we imagined possible and in directions we never anticipated. One element of the internet’s success is that it facilitates in a very efficient way a greater degree of human interaction than any previous communication technology. From this strength lies one of the challenges to the success of the internet, wherever there is human interaction there exists the possibility for negative outcomes and a potential for abuse. The internet is a diverse space with content of every nature imaginable and has been a great boon to modern life but this does not mean that every piece of content is suitable for every internet user all of the time.
Internet content governance concerns the regulation of inappropriate online content and ensuring a safe online experience for all users. The regulatory environment surrounding the regulation of the internet is already very complex. It involves balancing the competing interests of freedom of speech and expression online with the need for the State to adequately protect its citizens as they navigate their way through the digital world. This responsibility is greatest with regard to vulnerable user groups for instance children. To further complicate matters the internet is in a constant state of evolution and is developing at a speed that regulatory powers simply cannot keep up with. Remember that many of the websites and services that we now see as fundamental to our use of the internet were not invented a decade ago. It is important that internet users enjoy the same freedoms on as off line and this applies in both regards; the same degree of freedom of expression but equally the same freedom to conduct their business and social lives without undue intrusion or harassment.
The Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment sits at the nexus of the various regulatory responsibilities surrounding the internet. The Department is responsible for any new regulations to be applied to internet businesses and for coordinating the regulatory approach between the other government departments with a role in this field, for instance the Department of Justice who deal with illegal online content such as child abuse material or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs who look to ensure children receive adequate education and protection to make them as safe as possible online.
Internet Content Governance Advisory Group
In 2013, an independent, expert Internet Content Governance Advisory Group (ICGAG) was established to report on a range of issues related to online content following a number of incidents.
ICGAG conducted a public consultation taking particular account of issues of online safety arising from children and young people’s use of the Internet. The group then used these responses and the outcome of meetings with a number of the major international companies based in Ireland who operate in this space to inform their policy recommendations. ICGAG’s report was brought to Cabinet and published in June 2014. It made a comprehensive and well thought out series of structural, legislative and administrative recommendations.
The Government established a Cross-Departmental Implementation Group in July 2014, which is chaired by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and attended by representatives from the Departments of Justice and Equality, Children and Youth Affairs, Education and Skills and Health. The Cross Departmental Implementation Group is preparing a document for Government outlining a set of measures to implement the ICGAG report.