A landmark Online Safety Bill to impose a legal duty of care on internet companies will now be on hold until a new prime minister is in place.
The new Online Safety Bill to impose a legal duty of care on internet companies had been in its final stages and was to be discussed in Parliament next week, but it will now be on hold until a new prime minister is in place in the autumn.
The Bill is a major landmark in the regulation of the tech sector, with social media and other platforms set to be held accountable for finding and removing harmful material from their sites.
Illegal content and activity
It aims to prevent the spread of illegal content and activity such as child abuse images (including on encrypted services), terrorist material and hate crimes, including racist abuse.
It will include measures to protect children from harmful material and protect adults from legal – but harmful – content as well as cracking down further on Russian and other state-backed disinformation.
The bill also requires pornography firms to use age verification technology to stop children from accessing the material on their sites.
Moreover, there will be a duty for the largest social media platforms and search engines to prevent fraudulent advertising.
The legislation puts the onus on the tech giants, like Meta, Twitter and Google, to figure out how it would meet those aims. It also empowers Ofcom as a regulator to police whether they do a good enough job.
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.
Moves to include some legal but harmful content in the scope of the bill have been controversial.
Firms have to comply
Campaigners have called for a number of further amendments including measures to strengthen freedom of expression and rights protections, better protection of people from marginalised backgrounds and expand transparency requirements on firms to boost access to data for researchers and academics.
There are also calls for future-proofing the regulations – such as changing how platforms are defined and standardising the risk assessments and specific duties with which firms have to comply.
Free speech campaigners say the Bill is too far-reaching and could lead to censorship when it asks platforms to take down content designated legal but harmful.
The bill is at report stage, which means MPs can discuss amendments. Ministers had hoped to move the Online Safety Bill through the House of Commons before MPs go on their summer break on 21st July.
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it’s expected to be dropped from the parliamentary schedule next week.
House of Lords
The legislation has still to be scrutinized by the House of Lords so would not have made it onto the statute books before incumbant Boris Johnson left No. 10 anyway.
A new prime minister is expected to be announced on Monday 5th September.
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