Technology 6 min read

Net Neutrality in Britain: It's not About the London Bridge Attack

Charlie Bard |

Charlie Bard |

British Prime Minister Theresa May, citing the London Bridge Attack, has called for tough internet regulation to deny extremist ideology a “safe space”. Is this a pretext for censorship?

Despite an essentially borderless internet connection between most of the countries of the world, net neutrality in one nation can mean ensuring internets while in another it might mean internet censorship.

As we’ve covered, the U.S. net neutrality struggle seems to be among Big Telecom, the smaller providers and private internet users who absolutely reject the practice of paid prioritization and other profit-driven abuses on the part of the former.

In the U.S., the interest of Big Telecom companies is largely represented by conservative politicians, who, according to proponents of the net neutrality regulations within Title II and the Open Internet Order, are likely representing company interests for substantial campaign donations.

Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, in 2014, opposed the then-groundbreaking FCC net neutrality proposal, calling it “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Jeb Bush, during the lead up to his 2016 presidential campaign, called net neutrality “one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard.

If you weren’t willing to chock it all up to large campaign donations, you might search for the principles these politicians were standing on to oppose net neutrality regulation.

Some Republican representatives argued that net neutrality regulation would shackle the Internet. They argued that net neutrality would dissuade Internet investment and discourage competition between internet firms, despite the fact that the ISPs they unofficially represented–like Comcast–were ruled to have done that very thing.

Ironically, U.S. Republicans and conservative-leaning politicians tend to oppose any government regulation. It is in the spirit of a free market and trust in the benefits of competition that these policymakers defend the “freedom” of the Internet.

There is also the “Revolving Door” argument: before his appointment as the current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai handled competition and regulatory matters for Verizon, Inc.

Net Neutrality in the U.S., Internet Censorship in the U.K.

In the U.K., however, conservative Tories represented by Prime Minister Theresa May are diametrically different from Conservative Republicans in the U.S.

In light of the recent London Bridge terror attack, British PM Theresa May said the government should regulate the Internet in a way very unlike now-defunct U.S. net neutrality regulations, in order to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online.”

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide Internet-based services provide,” she continued.

In our opinion, extremism has nothing to do with the Internet, and the U.K. should know better.

Case in point, the Puritan Dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell during the late 16th and early 17th Century took hold. There was, of course, no Internet, and most people weren’t even literate. Cromwell’s “Godly Reformation” soon perpetrated the same heinous acts he had accused the English monarchs of committing before overthrowing them.

Cromwell’s “Godly Reformation” soon perpetrated the same heinous acts he had accused the English monarchs of committing before overthrowing them.

As you know, technology is a tool and how “good” or “bad” it is depends on how it’s used.

Just as extremist terrorist use it to further their agenda, the Internet is a tool that law enforcement and everyday users can use to protect themselves from such extremism.

The Internet is a loose collection of individual computers and minds. Based on the way the Internet works, an effective solution for the problem of the dissemination of extremist ideology must logically be a grassroots movement from the individual level up (the same way that terrorist cells work) and not a monolithic blanket solution imposed from the top down.

The Patriot Act vs. Investigatory Powers Act and Beyond

We’re seeing a parallel with the Patriot Act and the limitation of rights and freedom for the expansion of government surveillance for “national security.”

The London Bridge Attack

How could the London Bridge attack be a justification for the “Tory Manifesto?”

As now Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

Between the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, which gives British law enforcement unprecedented internet-investigatory powers, and the Tories’ Manifesto, the U.K conservative agenda seems to have always been pushing for internet censorship, including China-esque search engine result limitations.

British PM Theresa May calls for internet censorship after the London Bridge Attack.Click To Tweet

It could be that this is a continuation of a long-running plan to cultivate a longstanding British Conservative government.

The Tories are probably not like a 1984-esque Ingsoc, busy rewriting the histories to erect a fundamentally impenetrable government ethos.

Yet, it seems that the U.K. has a history of collecting personal data even before it was strictly legal. What we missed there was public outrage.

Public Trust in Government

Why would British citizens tolerate mass surveillance, and in particular, unlawful surveillance?

The difference in cultural attitudes is this: The U.S., for example, was founded because of a rejection of overstepping by the English monarchy and chose to become citizens of a free nation. Those who stayed under British rule didn’t reject the Crown and remained loyal subjects.

Why? If you read here, one expert thinks it’s because of economic status. When is public trust of government high? The answer: when the economy is good.

Aside from that, there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way Americans and British see their relationship with government.

internet censorship

Fast forward a few centuries, and across the pond, Brits are still more inclined to see themselves as loyal subjects.

The Queen embodies the national identities and that of the Commonwealth (though with predominately symbolic powers) and the unwavering love, pride, and respect that British culture feels toward her is an indication of this.

Historically, this trust has extended to the government as a whole, with the common belief that the government performs a protective role and whatever it does must be on behalf of the citizen’s welfare.

While this may be an imperfect assumption and one that has changed or is changing, it could be this passive trust of government that will permit in the U.K. what Americans might consider Internet censorship.

However, it’s important to note that this is changing, and varies by socio-economic level.

In just the last two years, British public trust of their government has plummeted. Theresa May enjoys a public trust rating of only 35%.

While in 2015 only 1 in 5 Americans trusted their government, President Trump won an election in 2016 based on the premise of draining the corruption out of U.S. government. Nevertheless, that distrust doesn’t seem to have alleviated.

Do terrible events like the London Bridge Attack warrant potentially harmful policies like Theresa May’s proposed internet censorship? What should be done to protect privacy yet discourage extremism?

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