Dominic Grieve, the UK Attorney General has said that he agrees with privacy injunctions being served on Internet companies, but has also warned of ‘excessive regulation’.
In what is being quoted as his strongest intervention yet on the regulation of the Internet, Mr Grieve has said that Google and Twitter cannot “act like a policeman” in the context of their own networks.
According to a report in The Guardian today, Mr Grieve’s suggestion that privacy injunctions should be served on Internet companies along with newspapers and broadcasters has been described as a “common sense” idea by other MPs and peers.
“That certainly seems to me an interesting suggestion. The interesting question is seems to me is, if this should be done on a more routine basis, then that seems to have some force. It is very wise; it’s a suggestion of ordinary common sense,” Grieve told the Guardian.
Though this might send shivers down the spine of privacy and data activists, Mr Grieve pointed out in the report that social networks must “act responsibly” and obey the law of the land, but said that “excessive regulation” could pose a threat to online civil liberties.
Mr Grieve’s intervention comes after a cross-party committee urged the UK government to force Google to take down material that is banned in courts if the company is not prepared to do so of its own volition.
This move follows cases where injunctions have been repeatedly breached online, as was the case with footballer Ryan Giggs over his alleged affair and Max Moseley, the former F1 boss who said he spent thousands of pounds trying to remove copies of a video covertly filmed by The News of the World.
“Normally an injunction obtained by one party is enforced by that party. I have the ability to step in but it is one that should be exercised sparingly. For example, where there is a wider public interest issue that goes beyond the privacy issue of individual,” Mr Grieve says in the Guardian report.
“The blunt reality is that somebody who tweets is likely to find themselves in contempt by the party who obtained the order … It is only a matter of time before that happens if people continue behaving this way.”
The development of privacy legislation online is still being formed and reformed in the hands of government leaders. Much of it is unknown territory and it would be right to also put suggestions before the citizens who use the Web or make the Web in order to take in a balanced and more sophisticated view.
There are many who would criticise MPs and peers for being disconnected from Web society, but this intervention from Mr Grieve shows a better understanding. Whether it will work in practise is a different matter.