With the growth of the Internet, the concept of an online society has quickly become reality. And as with any society, distinctions between acceptable and deviant behaviour are growing, creating new demands for regulation.
The Digital Britain report proposed that ISPs should adopt a more active regulatory role to help curb piracy and distribution of illegal content. Yet, it is debatable whether ISPs are best placed to police the Internet, because of the limited control they have over networks.
The main function of ISPs as regulators is to help law enforcement agencies determine the source of illegal content more easily by monitoring connectivity data. However, monitoring content raises privacy issues, and ISPs should not police Internet traffic.
In addition, it is technically impossible for ISPs to moderate and monitor everything that goes on in their networks.
It has also been proposed that national governments and the European Union take responsibility for Internet regulation. However, government-led processes can be inflexible, and traditional routes of legislation often take too long to become law. Therefore, legislation cannot keep pace with Internet innovation.
Additionally, while national governments can restrict Internet traffic to tackle criminal activities, such restrictions can easily be seen as an attack on civil rights.
Consequently, an open, bottom-up regulatory model is the only feasible way forward. Industry-wide collaboration between ISPs, the technical community, supporting organisations, national governments and law enforcement agencies helps ensure an open and transparent policy development process and regulation.
An open platform like the Internet cannot and should not be heavily regulated. People benefit from the openness of the Internet, which stimulates innovation, access and diversity because they can experiment with different technologies.
A bottom-up, multi-stakeholder and self-regulatory approach will ultimately help safeguard the dynamic and responsible development of the Internet.