The Internet is a powerful force for good: within
20 years it has expanded from almost nothing to a key component
of critical national infrastructure and a driver of innovation
and economic growth. It facilitates the spread of information,
news and culture. It underpins communications and social networks
across the world. A return to a world without the Internet is
now hardly conceivable.
But the Internet is now increasingly the playground
of criminals. Where a decade ago the public perception of the
e-criminal was of a lonely hacker searching for attention, today's
"bad guys" belong to organised crime groups, are highly
skilful, specialised, and focused on profit. They want to stay
invisible, and so far they have largely succeeded. While the incidence
and cost of e-crime are known to be huge, no accurate data exist.
Underpinning the success of the Internet is the confidence
of hundreds of millions of individual users across the globe.
But there is a growing perception, fuelled by media reports, that
the Internet is insecure and unsafe. When this is set against
the rate of change and innovation, and the difficulty of keeping
pace with the latest technology, the risk to public confidence
The Government have insisted in evidence to this
inquiry that the responsibility for personal Internet security
ultimately rests with the individual. This is no longer realistic,
and compounds the perception that the Internet is a lawless "wild
west". It is clear to us that many organisations with a stake
in the Internet could do more to promote personal Internet security:
the manufacturers of hardware and software; retailers; Internet
Service Providers; businesses, such as banks, that operate online;
the police and the criminal justice system.
We believe as a general principle that well-targeted
incentives are more likely to yield results in such a dynamic
industry than formal regulation. However, if incentives are to
be effective, they may in some cases need to be backed up by the
possibility of direct regulation. Also, there are some areas,
such as policing, where direct Government action is needed. So
Government leadership across the board is required. Our recommendations
urge the Government, through a flexible mix of incentives, regulation,
and direct investment, to galvanise the key stakeholders.
The threat to the Internet is clear, but it is still
manageable. Now is the time to act, both domestically, and internationally,
through the European Union and through international organisations