Online Safety Bill ' Balancing Online Safety And Freedom Of Expression

Publication Date22 June 2021
SubjectTechnology, Security, New Technology
Law FirmBoyes Turner
AuthorMs Helen Dobson

The Government has signalled its commitment to improving online safety with the Online Safety Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech in May. It aims to ensure greater protection of young people and to clamp down on racist abuse online, whilst also safeguarding freedom of expression. It will impose a number of obligations on digital service providers, with Ofcom receiving new powers to impose significant penalties for non-compliance.

The government describes the Bill as a 'milestone' in its fight to make the internet safer. Research shows that over three quarters of UK adults are concerned about going online. Parents are also increasingly concerned, with the number feeling that the benefits of their children accessing the internet outweighing the risks falling to 55%.

Scope of the Online Safety Bill

The Bill follows the publication of the Online Harms White Paper in April 2019 and aims to create a "democratic digital age".

It will apply to all digital service providers whose services are available to UK users, allow users to share user-generated content and to search multiple websites and databases. This will include social media platforms, messaging services, online market places and other websites, apps and services that host user-generated content or allow people to talk to others online. The Bill includes provisions to tackle online scams and to require digital service providers to apply measures remove and limit the spread of illegal and harmful content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist materials and suicide content.

Digital service providers fall in to one of two categories, each subject to different obligations for moderating and mitigating harmful or illegal content appearing on or via their platform.

The defining criteria for each category is still to be determined by OFCOM, however it is likely category 1 providers will be those with the largest online presence and high risk features such as Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, Instagram and Twitter. These companies will be subject to more onerous obligations and will need to take proactive steps to address both illegal and harmful (but legal) content, provide extra protection for children and submit transparency reports to OFCOM. Category 2 providers - likely to include search services and lower risk user-to-user services - will need to take proportionate steps in relation to illegal content and to protect children (but not adults) from harmful content.

Under the proposals, Ofcom will receive a new...

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