4 October 2023

Digital Technology Guru

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UK Online Safety Bill Passed Parliament, Empowering Ofcom as Internet Regulator

2 min read
UK Online Safety Bill Passed  Parliament, Empowering Ofcom as Internet Regulator

The controversial UK Online Safety Bill, which establishes Ofcom as the main regulator for online platforms and services, has been passed parliament. The bill aims to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, particularly for children. Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay emphasized this intention during the bill’s final stages in the House of Lords. The legislation grants Ofcom the power to impose fines of up to 10% of annual turnover for violations of the new content moderation rules.

The Online Safety Bill has evolved over the years to address a range of online safety concerns. Originally focused on tackling illegal content, such as terrorism and child sexual abuse material, it has expanded to include various forms of harmful online activity, including violent content, the incitement of violence, cyber bullying, and disinformation. Recent additions have sought to address issues like trolling, scam ads, deepfake porn, and animal cruelty.

One major area of concern is the potential impact on web security and privacy. The bill gives Ofcom the authority to require platforms to scan message content for illegal material, raising questions about the risks to encryption and privacy. While the government appears to have avoided a direct clash with encrypted platforms like WhatsApp, privacy and security experts remain vigilant.

Another issue is the fear that the bill will lead to widespread age-gating of the UK internet. Web services may enforce age verification measures to mitigate their liability and ensure that inappropriate content is not accessible to minors.

Critics, including Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, argue that the legislation could be used for state censorship and infringe upon human rights and internet safety. Balancing the demands of child safety campaigners with the concerns of civil liberties and human rights groups will now fall to Ofcom.

The passage of the bill has also raised concerns about the regulatory burden on the UK’s digital economy. The rules apply not only to large social media platforms but also to smaller online services, potentially exposing them to significant penalties.

Ofcom’s CEO, Dame Melanie Dawes, welcomed the bill’s passage and expressed the organization’s readiness to implement the new laws. Ofcom will soon consult on the standards that tech firms will be expected to meet in tackling illegal online harms.

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