Commenting on the release of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper today, Vinous Ali, head of policy, techUK said:
"The publication of the White Paper is a significant step forward, but with many key questions still open for consultation there is still a long way to go to achieve the Governments ambition of creating a world leading framework to combat online harms. The tech sector is committed to working with Government and others to achieve this ambition. But, delivering this framework will not be easy and won’t be achieved if difficult problems and trade-offs are ignored.
"Some of the key pillars of the Government's approach remain too vague. It is vital that the new framework is effective, proportionate and predictable. Clear legal definitions that allow companies in scope to understand the law and therefore act quickly and with confidence will be key to the success of the new system.
"Not all of the legitimate concerns about online harms can be addressed through regulation. The new framework must be complemented by renewed efforts to ensure children, young people and adults alike have the skills and awareness to navigate the digital world safely and securely.
On the regulatory body:
"A regulator, whether new or existing, will not thank anyone for being handed a vague remit. It is vital that the Government is clear about what it wants to achieve and the trade-offs necessary to do it. That means providing clear definitions of online harms and setting out how difficult boundary issues should be addressed.
"We are glad to see the Government committing to a risk-based, proportionate approach. A one-size-fits-all approach would have been inappropriate and inevitably ineffective. We hope this more nuanced approach will help produce better outcomes and reflect the diversity of services that are brought into scope.
"The regulator must become engaged effectively and work with businesses to help improve and develop effective practices that build user trust and confidence."
On a duty of care:
"The duty of care is a deceptively straightforward sounding concept. However it is still not clearly defined and open to broad interpretation. Government will need to clarify the legal meaning and how it expects companies to comply with such a potentially broad obligation which could conflict with other fundamental rights - particularly in relation to private communications on their platforms. The new framework should avoid creating discrepancies in law between the online and offline worlds.
On enforcement powers:
"Enforcement must be focused on those companies who repeatedly and flagrantly fail to create a safe environment for their users.
Director liability and ISP blocking are both heavy handed approaches. By going down this route the UK risks setting precedents that will be abused by less open and less democratic jurisdictions. The UK Government should be mindful that governments and investors around the world are watching closely how it handles these issues. Getting the balance right between effective protections and the protection of fundamental rights will be essential.”