Ofcom to take on the role as the internet content regulator

Ofcom to take on the role as the internet content regulator

This announcement by Government follows the Online Harms White Paper consultation from 2019.

Ofcom will be given additional powers through a new legal duty of care to force companies such as Google and Facebook to remove harmful content. The Government proposes to introduce a new law for websites which would be enforced through a Code of Practice. ISPs will be expected to quickly remove illegal content linked to terrorism and child abuse and to protect children from potentially harmful material such as that which could encourage suicide and self-harm.

The key proposals in the Government statement include:

  • Platforms will need to ensure that illegal content is removed quickly and minimise the risk of it appearing. Robust action will need to be taken on terrorist content and online child sexual abuse.
  • Ofcom will have a clear responsibility to protect users’ rights online, paying due regard to safeguarding free speech, defending the role of the press, promoting tech innovation and ensuring businesses do not face disproportionate burdens.
  • Protection of freedom of expression; the regulations will not stop adults from accessing or posting legal content that some may find offensive. Instead companies will be required to explicitly state what content and behaviour is acceptable on their sites in clear and accessible terms and conditions and enforce these effectively, consistently and transparently.
  • The duty of care will only apply to companies that facilitate the sharing of user generated content, for example through comments, forums or video sharing. Just because a business has a social media presence, does not mean it will be in scope of the regulation.
  • Business to business services, which provide virtual infrastructure to businesses for storing and sharing content, will not have requirements placed on them (less than 5% of UK businesses will be in scope).
  • The proposals assume a higher level of protection for children than for the typical adult user, including, where appropriate, measures to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate or harmful content. This approach will achieve a more consistent and comprehensive approach to harmful content across different sites and go further than the Digital Economy Act’s focus on online pornography on commercial adult sites.

Government will publish a full consultation response in Spring 2020, which will set out further details of the timeline and potential enforcement powers Ofcom may have. A full update can be found here.