A new Online Safety Bill in 2021Gulistan Ladha
The government’s digital strategy recognises the increased importance of digital technology and data in people’s lives and wants the UK to maximise the benefits of a tech-led recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the earlier consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, a new regulatory framework has been announced by Secretary of State for DCMS and Secretary of State for the Home Department. A new Online Safety Bill will be published in 2021 and Ofcom will be named as the new online harms regulator.
The new framework will apply to companies whose services host user-generated content or facilitate interaction between users, one or more of whom is based in the UK, as well as search engines. Services include social media, consumer cloud storage sites, video sharing platforms, online instant messaging services and peer to peer services.
The legislation will introduce additional provisions targeted at building understanding and driving action to tackle disinformation and misinformation. For example, establishing an expert working group on disinformation and misinformation, measures to improve transparency about how companies deal with disinformation and building on Ofcom’s existing duties to promote media literacy.
Email, telephony (voice-only calls, SMS/MMS) and business services will be exempt, as will online services managed by educational institutions where they are already subject to sufficient safeguarding duties. Content and articles produced and published by news websites on their own sites, and below-the-line comments published on these sites will be out of scope.
All platforms will have a duty of care to protect children. Infrastructure service providers will have a role to play in combatting the most serious harms. A limited number of priority categories of harmful content will be set out in secondary legislation.
Ofcom will issue codes of practice which outline the systems and processes that companies need to adopt to fulfil their duty of care. Companies will need to comply with the codes or be able to demonstrate that an alternative approach is equally effective. The government will set objectives for the codes in legislation. Ofcom will have a duty to consult on the codes and must help all companies to understand and fulfil their responsibilities.
Firms failing to protect people face fines of up to 18 million, or 10% of global annual turnover or the blocking of their sites and the government will reserve the power to introduce criminal sanctions for senior managers.