Joint parliamentary committee to scrutinise Online Safety Bill

MPs and lords launch joint parliamentary committee to scrutinise the federal government’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill.  

The new committee is already seeking input from the public about their views of the laws, which the federal government claims will safeguard freedom of expression on-line, enhance the accountability of tech giants and shield customers from hurt on-line.

Under the Bill’s statutory “duty of care”, tech firms that host consumer generated content material or permit folks to talk can be legally obliged to proactively determine, take away and restrict the unfold of each unlawful and authorized however dangerous content material – resembling youngster sexual abuse, terrorism and suicide materials – or they might be fined up to 10% of their turnover by the net harms regulator, now confirmed to be Ofcom.

The joint committee is chaired by MP Damian Collins, the previous chair of House of Commons DCMS Select Committee, who beforehand led an inquiry into disinformation and “fake news” that concluded by calling for an finish to the self-regulation of social media companies.

“The Online Safety Bill is about finally putting a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content, and ultimately holding the tech giants to account for the role their technology plays in promoting it,” mentioned Collins.

“The next step in this process is the detailed scrutiny of the draft Bill. This is a once in a generation piece of legislation that will update our laws for the digital age,” he mentioned.

“We now have a super committee of MPs and peers, highly experienced in this area who will work together to go through this Bill line by line to make sure it’s fit for purpose. Freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy, but so is fighting against movements that seeks to harm and dehumanise people. In the social media age we have not yet got that balance right, and now is the time to fix it.”

The committee is about to report its findings to the federal government on 10 December 2021, and also will search views particularly on how the draft Bill compares to on-line security laws in different international locations.

On 22 July, a report from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee mentioned that though it welcomes the Bill’s proposals to oblige tech platforms to take away unlawful content material and shield kids from hurt, it doesn’t assist the federal government’s plan to make firms average content material that’s authorized, however could also be objectionable to some.

Instead, the Lords argued that present legal guidelines – resembling these on harassment or grossly offensive publications – must be correctly enforced, and any critical harms not already made unlawful must be criminalised.

“We are not convinced that they are workable or could be implemented without unjustifiable and unprecedented interference in freedom of expression. If a type of content is seriously harmful, it should be defined and criminalised through primary legislation,” friends wrote.

“It would be more effective – and more consistent with the value which has historically been attached to freedom of expression in the UK – to address content which is legal but some may find distressing through strong regulation of the design of platforms, digital citizenship education, and competition regulation.”

Joint committee

Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, Lord Gilbert, can be a member of the brand new joint committee being launched.

At the top of June 2021, the newly shaped marketing campaign group Legal to Say. Legal to Type additionally critiqued the Bill for being overly simplistic and ceding an excessive amount of energy to Silicon Valley companies over freedom of speech within the UK.

Speaking at a press convention launching the group, Conservative MP David Davis, who characterised the Bill as a “censor’s charter”, mentioned: “Silicon Valley suppliers are being requested to adjudicate and censor ‘legal but harmful’ content material. Because of the vagueness of the factors and the dimensions of the nice, we all know what they’re going to do – they’re going to lean closely into the aspect of warning.

“Anything that can be characterised as misinformation will be censored. Silicon Valley mega-corporations are going to be the arbiters of truth online. The effect on free speech will be terrible.”

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