Scams  

Online Safety Bill enters parliament

Online Safety Bill enters parliament
 

A bill aiming to protect internet users from scams and hold tech giants to account is one step closer to becoming law after being introduced to parliament.

The Online Safety Bill will be read in the House of Commons today (March 17), nearly a year after the first draft was published.

It requires social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites to protect children and tackle illegal activity, all while maintaining freedom of speech.

Ofcom, the industry regulator, will also be given the power to fine companies up to 10 per cent of their annual global turnover if they do not comply with the laws. 

In a statement today, the government said the bill will “strengthen people’s rights to express themselves freely online”, while protecting journalism and democratic political debate on the platforms.

Low-risk tech and non-tech businesses with an online presence will be excluded from the bill, as will all news content.

Nadine Dorries, digital secretary, said the internet has transformed our lives for the better, but tech firms have not been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have ‘run riot’ on their platforms. 

“If we fail to act, we risk sacrificing the wellbeing and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unchecked algorithms,” she said.

“Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the UK the safest place to go online.”

Dame Melanie Dawes, chief executive of Ofcom, said today marks an “important step” towards creating a safer life online for the UK’s children and adults. 

“Our research shows the need for rules that protect users from serious harm, but which also value the great things about being online, including freedom of expression.”

However, some concerns about the bill have been raised by members of parliament.

Stephen Timms, chair of the work and pensions committee, wrote to the prime minister last November to question what discussions the government has had with the Financial Conduct Authority in response to concerns that the regulator does not have the enforcement power it needs.

In his reply, published last week (March 7), prime minister Boris Johnston said the government has fully engaged with the regulator in the development of the bill, and HM Treasury is supporting the FCA’s work to ensure online platforms comply with UK financial promotions rules.

“[HM Treasury] welcomes further engagement with the FCA in this area.

“The government remains deeply concerned about the impact of fraudulent advertising and we are determined to tackle it head-one.”

Updates

The bill has been updated a number of times since the first draft was published in May 2021.