Recommendations by parliamentarians could significantly improve the draft Online Safety Bill

Read techUK's initial comment on the publication of the report by the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill.

On Tuesday 14 December, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill published its report after several months of scrutiny of the Government’s draft legislation. Read techUK's full summary and take on the report here.

Commenting on the report, Antony Walker, Dep. CEO techUK said:

“The joint committee report is well thought through and does a good job of disentangling and restructuring a complex Draft Bill. We welcome the focus on clarity, proportionality and a risk-based approach for the 24,000 companies in scope.   

There is much in this report that could significantly improve the Government’s Draft Bill. Importantly it focuses on the need for the Bill to be crystal clear about what it is asking businesses to do. Lack of clarity has been one of the sector’s biggest concerns. 

The ultimate test of this legislation remains whether it enables in-scope companies and the regulator to make swift and effective decisions without unintended consequences for fundamental freedoms online.  

The committee has recognised the widespread concerns about using the term ‘legal but harmful’ and has proposed an alternative approach for a single test for ‘regulated activity’ which could be an improvement and deserves serious consideration.  

The committee recommendations to streamline the child safety duties with the Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC) would ensure greater consistency with existing legislation on child safety. We also welcome the recommendation to ensure Ofcom’s independence and limit the powers of the Secretary of State.  

Overall, the report takes a nuanced and proportionate risk-based approach, however, there are areas of concern:  

  • There is a risk that taken together, these proposals could amount to a requirement for general monitoring of user behaviour with a negative impact on individual fundamental rights.  
  • There is also a risk that the extension of scope to include fraud could over burden the communications regulator. We believe the issue of financial fraud should remain in the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority.  
  • There is also concern that a potentially overly prescriptive approach to age assurance could lead to the age gating of services to the detriment of young people.   

The next phase of this process must include thorough engagement by Government with in-scope services to get into the detail of how the Bill will work in practice for different companies. 

We encourage Government to come forward with a revised and improved Bill quickly so that we can get this new regulation into law.”  

 


Antony Walker

Antony Walker

Deputy CEO, techUK

Ed Ratcliffe

Head of Public Affairs, techUK

Lulu Freemont

Lulu Freemont

Head of Digital Regulation, techUK

 

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