New UK regulations save ISPs from online hate content

The government has published an update to its E-Commerce Directive, which will protect broadband Internet Service Providers (ISP) from liability for religious or sexuality-related hate speech material that they neither create nor monitor.

Online legal information site, OUT-LAW, quotes from an explanatory note:

"Articles 12 to 14 of the [E-Commerce] Directive require the UK to limit, in specified circumstances, the liability of intermediary service providers who carry out certain activities essential for the operation of the Internet, namely those who act as 'mere conduits' and those who 'cache' or 'host' information.

In the Government's view there may be scope to argue over whether conduits, caches and hosts could ever have the necessary intent to stir up religious hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation and so Regulations 5 to 7 of these Regulations create specific exceptions from liability for the new offences for mere conduits, caches and hosts in the circumstances set out in the Directive and reflected in the E-Commerce Regulations."

In reality the change will have little impact because liability for related offences carries a need to prove intent, which would be almost impossible to peg on an ISP unless it created the content itself. Never the less some providers will be glad of the extra clarification.

No ISP could realistically be expected to police every word posted on remote websites and servers. Today many residential providers also adopt filtering technology that blocks child abuse images and hate content, though that list of blocks is handled externally.

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