Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report


ABSTRACT

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 is clear.

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 and partnerships.


 
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