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Government publishes Digital Charter

Published on 12 April 2018

On 25 January 2018, the Department for Media Culture and Sport ("DCMS") published the Digital Charter that was announced in the 2017 Queen's speech.

The development 

The Charter sets out a programme of work intended to make the UK both the safest place to be online and the best place to start and grow a digital business.


The DCMS set out in their Policy Paper that they are determined that the UK should lead the world in innovation-friendly regulation that encourages the tech sector and provides stability for businesses.  The aim is to increase public confidence and trust in new technologies, and therefore create the best possible basis on which the digital economy can thrive.

Recognising that the internet is a powerful force for good that creates new opportunities, the DCMS also recognises that it presents challenges and risks and that tackling these challenges in an effective and responsible way is critical for digital technology to thrive.

The Digital Charter is the response of the DCMS to these issues.  It creates a programme of work to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice.  It considers the need to shift expectations of behaviour, agree new standards and update laws and regulations.  The starting point of the Digital Charter is that it should be possible to have the same rights and expect the same behaviour online as offline.

The principles

The Charter sets out the principles that will guide the work of the DCMS.  The principles are that:

  • the internet should be free, open and accessible;
  • people should understand the rules that apply to them when they are online;
  • personal data should be respected and used appropriately;
  • protections should be in place to help keep people safe online, especially children;
  • the same rights that people have offline must be protected online; and
  • the social and economic benefits brought by new technologies should be fairly shared.

Work programme

  • The Charter has outlined an on-going programme of work that will evolve as technology develops.  However, the current priorities include:

  • digital economy – building a thriving ecosystem where technology companies can start and grow;
  • ·online harms – protecting people from harmful content and behaviour, including building understanding and resilience, and working with industry to encourage the development of technological solutions;
  • liability – looking at the legal liability that online platforms have for the content shared on their sites, including considering more effective action through better use of the existing legal frameworks and definitions;
  • data and artificial intelligence (AI) ethics and innovation – ensuring data is used in a safe and ethical way, and when decisions are made based on data, these are fair and appropriately transparent;
  • digital markets – ensuring digital markets are working well, including through supporting data portability and the better use, control and sharing of data;
  • disinformation – limiting the spread and impact of disinformation intended to mislead for political, personal and/or financial gain;
  • cyber security – supporting businesses and other organisations to take the steps necessary to keep themselves and individuals safe from malicious cyber activity, including by reducing the burden of responsibility on end-users.

Progress to date

The DCMS states that there has already been good progress under the Charter’s work programme, including movements to:

  • give people more control over their personal data through the Data Protection Bill;
  • protect children and vulnerable adults online through the Internet Safety Strategy;
  • create a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to advise government and regulators on the implications of new data-driven technologies, including AI; and
  • build international pressure and consensus to tackle terrorist use of the internet and support the establishment of an international industry-led forum to look at it

Why is this important?

The Charter will not be developed by government alone.  It will look to the tech sector, businesses and other interested parties to find solutions.

As work on the Charter continues, the DCMS are committed to:

  • harnessing the ingenuity of the tech sector, looking to them for answers to specific technological challenges, rather than government dictating precise solutions;
  • considering the full range of possible solutions, including legal changes where necessary, to establish standards and norms online;
  • leading by example, including through procurement policy;
  • building an international coalition of like-minded countries to develop a joint approach.

The Charter will develop alongside technology and is a document that will be updated as progress is made on the work programme.  While the plans are still high level, it will be interesting to see how much input will be sought from platforms and tech companies under this initiative.

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