Online Safety Bill to return as soon as possible

A stock image of young children looking at a mobile phone. An older child shields the eyes of their sibling.Getty Images

The Online Safety Bill will return to Parliament “quickly”, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has said.

“We want it in law as soon as possible to protect children when they’re accessing content online,” she said.

The bill requires technology companies to protect their users from illegal content such as child-abuse images.

But rules requiring them to also tackle “legal but harmful” material, which critics say could lead to censorship, would be altered, Ms Donelan said.

Eating disorders

What exactly will count as legal but harmful material will be set out in secondary legislation.

Platforms “likely to be accessed by children” will have to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content such as posts promoting self-harm or eating disorders.

But “the largest, highest-risk platforms” will also have to tackle some legal but harmful material accessed by adults – and make clear in their terms and conditions, which they are expected to enforce, what is and is not acceptable on their site.

This gives big tech too much power, according to digital civil liberties campaigners.

“The bill effectively outsources internet policing – from the police, courts and Parliament, to Silicon Valley,” the Open Rights Group says.

In July, during the Conservative leadership campaign, candidate Kemi Badenoch – now International Trade Secretary – welcomed the bill’s delay until autumn, saying it had amounted to “overreach” and been in “no fit state” to become law.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

In her first Prime Minister’s Questions, Liz Truss told MPs: “What I want to make sure is that we protect the under-18s from harm and that we also make sure free speech is allowed, so there may be some tweaks required”.

And on Tuesday, Ms Donelan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My clear objective is to get this bill back to the House quickly, to edit the bit that we’ve been very upfront that we’re editing and to make sure that we get it into law.

“That element is in relation to adults – the bits in relation to children and online safety will not be changing.”

Asked how she would ensure this content accessed by adults was not also seen by children, she replied: “I’m not going to go into the detail of what we’re doing on the legal but harmful element, because this isn’t the correct forum to do that and we need to make those announcements in Parliament.”

But news site Tech Crunch suggested it might require social-media companies “age verifying all users and thereby putting the British social web behind a universal age-gate”.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar