Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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UK’s Landmark Online Safety Bill

Online Safety Bill: New Offences & Tighter Rules.
New criminal offences and major changes have been proposed in the UK’s landmark Online Safety Bill, which seeks to regulate social media and tech giants. According to the BBC News service, the new parliamentary report calls for adding scams and offences, like sending unwanted sexual images and promoting violence against women and girls.

A named senior manager at the tech giants should also be made personally liable in court for failures, it said. Those behind the report said “we need to call time on the Wild West online”.

 UK's Landmark Online Safety Bill

Online Safety Bill
Damian Collins, chairman of the joint committee issuing the report, said: “What’s illegal offline should be regulated online. “For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless, the era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end.”

The Online Safety Bill is seen as one of the most far-reaching attempts to date to regulate online content, which could have global implications.

The first draft, published in May, put a “duty of care” on large social websites to remove harmful or illegal content and protect children. But it was largely left up to the tech giants themselves to police, with oversight from media regulator Ofcom.

But the parliamentary report calls for Ofcom to set much more explicit standards, and have even greater powers to investigate and fine big tech firms.

Among the many recommendations made over its 191 pages are:

>>> An explicit duty for all pornography sites to make sure children cannot access them
>>> Scams and fraud – such as fake adverts designed to trick users – should be covered
>>> The bill should cover not just content, but “the potential harmful impact of algorithms”
>>> It should also be expanded to cover paid-for advertising, such as those involving scams

The report also recommends that a wide range of new criminal offences should be created, based on proposals from the Law Commission, and carried in the bill, including:

>>> Promoting or “stirring up” violence against women, or based on gender or disability
>>> Knowingly distributing seriously harmful misinformation
>>> Content “promoting self-harm” should be made illegal
>>> “Cyber-flashing” – the sending of unwanted naked images – should be illegal
>>> So should deliberately sending flashing images to those with epilepsy, with the goal of causing a seizure

Mr Collins said these changes would “bring more offences clearly within the scope of the Online Safety Bill, give Ofcom the power in law to set minimum safety standards for the services they will regulate, and to take enforcement action against companies if they don’t comply”.

Another major addition is the recommendation that tech firms must appoint a “safety controller” who would be made liable for an offence if there were “repeated and systemic failings”.

The idea has recently been pushed by the new Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries – who warned of potential prison sentences for serious offenders, and that the planned two-year grace period would end up being three to six months.

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