Last Friday we had a debate in the House of Lords on the Leveson Report on the “culture, practices and ethics of the press”. My speech dealt mainly with technical points. But the real challenge, which Leveson ducked, is how to regulate the digital press, from traditional news websites, to blogs, to ordinary people on Twitter. We have already seen what a Wild West free-for-all on the internet can do; look at the publication of photos of Prince Harry, the Duchess of Cambridge and the hounding of Lord McAlpine. A 21st century system of press regulation cannot ignore new media emerging online.

The problem is one of jurisdiction. There is precious little international agreement on which country’s laws should apply to a website, and the nature of the internet means that websites can easily relocate to evade national systems of press regulation. The EU has tried to establish the principle that websites are subject to the jurisdiction of the country in which their physical infrastructure – crudely speaking, their servers – are established. But the rise of “virtual servers” (which mean that a single website can no longer be traced to a physical location) and the complexity of the supply chain in web hosting will soon make these judgements more difficult. The US claims jurisdiction over all websites with “.com” or “.net” web addresses, but in practice it has serious difficulty enforcing its claims. Even in clear-cut instances of law-breaking – pirate websites, for example – getting a website shut down permanently is almost impossible. In the absence of any international agreement on the right to privacy, protecting people from intrusion on the internet will prove literally impossible.

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