The long awaited Online Safety Bill is now being introduced to Parliament to put in place new online safety laws for tech companies whilst bringing in a ‘new era of accountability’ online. Since the release of the draft Online Safety Bill in May 2021, the bill has been heavily scrutinised and strengthened to include further changes that have been brought forward today.
The Online Safety Bill has been brought forward to help better protect users online whilst holding tech firms accountable under Ofcom’s new regulation, now being able to fine companies who fail to comply with the law. Ofcom’s new position will allow them to investigate tech companies through information and data to ensure that they are keeping their users safe.
What Does the Bill Look to Achieve?
The proposals brought forward look to tackle online safety from a number of different areas. These include:
- Protecting children from harmful online content
- Limiting user’s exposure to illegal content
- Requiring online platforms that allow people to post their own content ensure they ‘protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their terms and conditions’
- Ofcom to regulate and fine companies who fail to comply.
- Tech firms and executives to be held more accountable
- Protection of freedom of speech
Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said:
“The internet has transformed our lives for the better. It’s connected us and empowered us. But on the other side, tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework.
We don't give it a second’s thought when we buckle our seat belts to protect ourselves when driving. Given all the risks online, it's only sensible we ensure similar basic protections for the digital age. If we fail to act, we risk sacrificing the wellbeing and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unchecked algorithms.
Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the Bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the UK the safest place to go online.”
Online Safety Bill Measures
Since the Draft Online Safety Bill was scrutinised, new offences and measures have been brought forward. These, as well as existing offences now include:
- Tougher and quicker criminal sanctions for tech bosses (prosecution could now be faced within two months of the Bill becoming law)
- New criminal offences for not cooperating with Ofcom including falsifying or destroying data with offenders’ potentially facing up to two years in prison or a fine.
- Social media platforms will be required to tackle ‘legal but harmful’ content with Parliament to approve what types of ‘legal but harmful’ content must be addressed as well as ‘clear up’ what this term constitutes.
- Combatting fraud by addressing paid-for-scam adverts on social media and search engines
- Ensuring 18+ age verification checks for sites that host pornography
- New measures to address anonymous trolls online whilst giving users more control over what they interact with and expose themselves to.
- The criminalisation of cyber flashing
- Ensuring companies tackle illegal or criminal activity online quicker
David Wright (Director of UK Safer Internet Centre) said:
“The introduction of the new online safety bill is a landmark change for the future of online safety. We have worked for over two decades to bring forward some of these essential areas of safety into scope and it is encouraging to know this will pave the way forward for keeping everyone, especially children and young people safe online.
We will review the Bill that is being introduced to parliament today, though it is good to see the level of accountability that has been brought forward. From our work with the Report Harmful Content platform and the Revenge Porn Helpline, we will work with Parliament to contribute our experience in defining the term ‘legal but harmful content’ as well. We work to remove this type of content on a daily basis so we know we can support and guide the correct way forward.”