Further delays for UK’s online safety laws
Britain’s proposed Online Safety Bill, designed to protect children from harmful online content, is set to be delayed until Parliament resumes in the autumn.
The new internet safety laws, which are being managed by the Department of Media Culture and Sport, aim to impose a legal duty of care on internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook to keep users safe.
Now in its final stages after several delays and amendments, the Online Safety Bill was due to move through the House of Commons next week.
However, the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the subsequent vote of no confidence designed to oust him with immediate effect, have been blamed on throwing the bill off course.
According to reports, the bill has been dropped from next week’s parliamentary schedule – the last before MPs go on their summer break on 21 July.
A government source blamed the delay on the Labour Party for calling the vote of no confidence. A source told BBC online: “Parliamentary time got cut because of Labour’s pointless motion.”
However, Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones retorted in a tweet that this was disingenuous as “parliamentary timetabling is entirely in the government’s gift”.
She added: “This threat to making children safe online, tackling fraud and scams and protecting public health in a pandemic is entirely on them.”
The new laws set out to prevent three things: the spread of illegal content and activity such as images of child abuse, terrorist material and hate crimes; to protect children from harmful material, and to protect adults from legal but harmful material.
The law puts the onus on the tech giants to figure out how this is enforced and empowers UK’s media regulator Ofcom to police whether they are doing a good enough job.
Tech firms that fail to comply with the new rules could face fines of up to £18m or 10% of their annual global turnover – whichever is highest.
Online safety organisations have welcomed the proposed new law, while activists such as Cambridge Analystica whistleblower Christopher Wylie have been calling for regulation for some time now.
The first draft of the legislation was introduced by Theresa May’s government in 2019 but there have been a string of revisions and amendments since then with objections coming from all parties.
Civil liberty groups, for instance, take issue with legislating against the legal but harmful content included in the bill, dismissing it as a “chokehold on the freedom of expression” and arguing that it gives too much power to tech firms and regulators over what users can do and say online.
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