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The UK’s new minister for internet security says government should innovate, not regulate

Joanna Shields at The Next Billion.
Shielding us from chaos?
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The UK’s new minister for Internet Safety and Security has said the country needs to innovate, not regulate

Joanna Shields was appointed to the new post this week, her first time at the heart of government and the first time the UK has had a minister whose remit is to oversee online security.

Her touch will be light, she indicated at Quartz’s Next Billion conference in London on Tuesday.

“The best choice is always innovation,” she said.  “Regulation should be a last resort. By the time you create laws you’re catching up, and the problem often moves on.”

Shields is entering a controversial arena. UK prime minister David Cameron has advocated for more oversight of the internet during his first five years in office, leading to speculation that the government wants a level of control over personal internet use and data that makes many uncomfortable: The increased oversight has been referred to by critics as a “snooper’s charter” for months.

Now, with a new term for his government secured, Cameron has promoted his one-time digital advisor to a much more far-reaching role.

But Shields, who is also chair and former CEO of TechCity UK, a Conservative Party initiative launched in 2010 to support the east London startup scene, says that she is keen to let tech companies, rather than regulators, lead the way.

“Collaboration and partnership with tech companies and government is at the core of this all, really important,” she said on the sidelines of the conference in London.

Shields said that in approaching her new role she’ll be using the model of a programme she previously ran called WeProtect, aimed at reducing child abuse online. In that case, she said, “It wasn’t government saying to the industry you have to do this this way, it was government saying to the industry: you have the brightest minds and talent,” and turning to them for solutions.

Much of Shields’ career has been spent in industry, rather than government. From a small town in Pensylvannia, she went on to the state’s university and eventually to Silicon Valley, where she held executive roles at Facebook and Google, and served as CEO of the social networking site Bebo. Shields title is now Baroness Shields, after she was made a life peer in September 2014.

She said that a role in government would help her “send the elevator back down”—to help others access technology and ascend as she has done.

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