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Ofcom appoints safe pair of hands as new boss and gets new internet censorship role

Establishment figure Dame Melanie Dawes has been announced as the new Chief Exec of UK telecoms regulator Ofcom.

She replaces Sharon White, who was also a senior civil servant before being handed the Ofcom gig. Dawes (pictured) is currently Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a position she has held since 2015. Prior to that she was Director General of the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat at the Cabinet Office.

“I am delighted that the Secretary of State has approved Ofcom’s appointment of Dame Melanie Dawes as the next Chief Executive of Ofcom,” said Lord Burns, Ofcom’s Chairman. “The Government’s statement that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the regulator for online harms is a vote of confidence in Ofcom’s expertise. I know Melanie will do a fantastic job of leading the organisation and maintaining its strengths.

“I look forward to working with her over the months ahead as we prepare for this forthcoming legislation as well as the ongoing tasks of achieving better broadband and mobile coverage and supporting UK broadcasting.”

“I congratulate Dame Melanie Dawes on her appointment as chief executive of Ofcom,” said DCMS Secretary of State Nicky Morgan. “Melanie’s experience leading organisations through change will be vital as the Government today announces it is minded to appoint the organisation as regulator for new online harms laws.”

What’s all this ‘online harms’ stuff they’re all banging on about, I hear you ask. Well the UK government has been having a public consultation on how to protect people from bad stuff on the internet. As a result it has concluded there needs to be some kind of state intervention to make sure those who publish bad stuff are censored, punished and prevented from ever doing so again.

“We will give the regulator the powers it needs to lead the fight for an internet that remains vibrant and open but with the protections, accountability and transparency people deserve,” said Morgan. There’s just so much to unpack in that. Of course things like child abuse, promoting terrorism, etc should be kept off the internet and proponents of them punished, but that stuff is already illegal, so why do we need extra powers to fight it? Proposing the censorship of ‘harmful’ but otherwise legal content creates so many new problems it’s hard to know where to start.

“There are a number of important questions that remain unanswered – especially in a post-Brexit environment – such as how Ofcom will use its new powers, how a regulator would deal with companies not based in the UK and ISP blocking – including how the UK reacts to technical developments such as DNS-over-HTTPS. ISPA will be working with its members on these and other points as we enter the next phase of consultation,” said Andrew Glover, the Chair of ISPA.

It had previously been rumoured that the new UK government would push for a more radical appointment, but maybe this additional internet censorship remit caused it to err on the side of caution. Dawes would have had her hands full without the impossible job of policing the internet, now she’s really got her work cut out.

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