A new report has been published by a group of MPs and Peers today. The Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, chaired by Damian Collins MP, has recommended major changes to the Online Safety Bill, which is due to be put to Parliament for approval in 2022. This new law will make internet service providers responsible for what’s happening on their platforms, including for serious crimes like child abuse, fraud, racist abuse, promoting self-harm and also against violence against women.
The main conclusions and recommendations from the report are:
- Big tech has failed its chance to self-regulate. They must obey this new law and comply with Ofcom as the UK regulator, or face the sanctions.
- Ofcom should set the standards by which big tech will be held accountable. Their powers to investigate, audit and fine the companies should be increased.
- Ofcom should draw up mandatory Codes of Practice for internet service providers. For example, they should write a Code of Conduct on risk areas like Child Exploitation and terrorism. They should also be able to introduce additional Codes as new features or problem areas arise, so the legislation doesn’t become outdated as technology develops.
- They should require the service providers to conduct internal risk assessments to record reasonably foreseeable threats to user safety, including the potentially harmful impact of algorithms, not just content.
- The new regulatory regime must contain robust protections for freedom of expression, including an automatic exemption for recognised news publishers, and acknowledge that journalism and public interest speech are fundamental to democracy
- Scams and fraud are generated with an aim to tackle harmful advertising such as scam adverts. Paid-for advertising should be covered by the Bill.
- Service providers should be required to create an Online Safety Policy for users to agree with, similar to their terms of conditions of service.
The Committee also believes the Bill should be clearer about what is specifically illegal online. They believe it should not be up to the tech companies to determine this. The Committee, therefore, has agreed with the Law Commission’s recommendations about adding new criminal offences to the Bill. They recommend that:
- Cyberflashing be made illegal.
- Deliberately sending flashing images to people with photosensitive epilepsy with the intention of inducing a seizure be made illegal.
- Pornography sites will have legal duties to keep children off them regardless of whether they host user-to-user content.
- Content or activity promoting self-harm be made illegal, such as it already is for suicide.
Further to this, the report recommends that individual users should be able to make complaints to an ombudsman when platforms fail to comply with the new law. They also recommended that a senior manager at the board level or reporting to the board should be designated the “Safety Controller” who would be made liable for the failure to comply with their obligations as regulated service providers when there is clear evidence of repeated and systemic failings that result in a significant risk of serious harm to users.