Safety net: how governments are working to protect citizens online

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March 16, 2021
Digital & technology

While the internet has many benefits, it can also be a dark, dangerous space: citizens of all ages face harms such as hate crime, fake news, sexual exploitation and terrorist propaganda. So governments are moving to protect people’s wellbeing and privacy in the digital world, finding new ways to tackle threats such as cyber-bullying and online grooming.

For example, in Australia the government is consulting on its Online Safety Bill, which provides new powers to help keep people safe. In the UK, the government intends to give media regulator Ofcom the power to impose big fines on social media sites that carry content such as terrorist propaganda and material encouraging suicide. And in the US, president-elect Joe Biden has named Bruce Reed as his technology adviser: Reed helped draft California’s online privacy law, and has argued that tech firms should be more accountable for user content. Meanwhile, around the world a ‘safety tech’ industry is emerging to provide the tools required by governments and citizens.

In recent years, governments and businesses have acted to tackle online crimes such as hacking and fraud. Now many are focusing on ways to balance the right to free speech with the need to prevent harm online. Bringing together civil servants and industry leaders from around the world, this webinar discussed how to create policy, regulatory, legislative and technical frameworks to protect people from harm without stifling economic growth, open debate or public access to digital services.

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Webinar chair: Siobhan Benita, former UK senior civil servant

Siobhan Benita was a senior civil servant with over 15 years’ Whitehall experience. She worked in many of the major delivery departments, including Transport, Environment, Health and Local Government. She also had senior roles at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, including supporting the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell to lead work on Civil Service reform and strategy. Siobhan left the Civil Service to run as an independent candidate in the Mayor of London election. She subsequently joined her alma mater, Warwick University as Chief Strategy Officer of Warwick in London and Co-Director of the Warwick Policy Lab.

Kelvin Kow, 2nd Director of Information Policy, Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

Kelvin Kow is 2nd Director of the Information Policy Division in the Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore. His current responsibilities include formulating and updating policies to address harmful online content. He has previous experience in the Monetary Authority of Singapore updating banking and payments regulatory policies in light of financial technology developments, in the Attorney-General’s Chambers prosecuting white collar crime, and in Singapore’s Supreme Court clerking for judges. He enjoys working with others within and outside government, to make the online environment a safe place for digital societies to thrive.

Sarah Connolly, Director of Security and Online Harms, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), United Kingdom

Sarah Connolly is Director for Security and Online Harms in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Sarah joined the Department in July 2016, from the Middle East, where she was an independent consultant. Prior to that Sarah worked in the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a range of security and counter-terrorism policies. Sarah also served as a Senior Advisor to the US CT Ambassador. She has a MA in Human Rights and Terrorism from the University of Essex and is currently a Policy Fellow at the University of Cambridge.

June Lowery-Kingston, Head of Unit Accessibility, Multilingualism and Safer Internet, Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (DG CNECT), European Commission

June Lowery is Head of Unit and Deputy to the Director at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (DG CNECT). She has worked for the EU institutions in Luxembourg for the past 25 years in a wide variety of fields including publications, finance, logistics, and digital inclusion. Her current responsibilities include web accessibility, language technology and online safety for children, and she is the CNECT equality coordinator. She is passionate about her job, and making the digital world more accessible, secure and inclusive.

Anna Piperal, Managing Director, e-Estonia Briefing Centre, Estonia

Anna Piperal is an e-governance expert and enthusiast and an e-Estonia Ambassador for sharing knowledge and experience building and living in a digital society as well as helping to build zero-bureaucracy around the world.

Living in a digital society of Estonia with technology governance and public administration education has forged Anna’s beliefs and passion to spread the benefits of technology for good governance and public wellbeing around the world. For years Anna has studied the essence of e-Estonia, from policy-making to technologies used, studied the impact and effects of living in a digital society with a goal to sharing these findings with the world to almost 3000 top-level state and business delegations. Anna has gained an understanding of historical and cultural aspects, technology acceptance level, social and political fears and influences for building a digital society.

She has also conducted research in the field of creating trust between the citizens and the state using technology as a tool, and can provide insights of introducing and popularizing e-services usage. Only effective and used e-services can create value for both citizens and the state, and while slow uptake and distrust towards e-services have caused problems internationally, creating trust and raising awareness is of key importance.