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Online safety bill

Gateley Legal

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The Online Safety Bill (OSB) is currently in draft form, but what can we expect to see from this new piece of legislation?

The OSB aims to:

  • Establish a new framework for tackling illegal and harmful content online;
  • Prevent harm to individuals in the UK;
  • Impose duties of care on internet service and search engine providers.

Who will the OSB apply to?

The OSB will apply to search engine providers along with “user to user” services which allow users to generate, upload or share content, e.g. social media platforms. The OSB only operates to protect users in the UK, but this means the OSB will apply to any company (in the scope of the legislation) regardless of where the company is based.

What will the OSB cover?

The duties of care will encompass putting in place processes to improve user safetyand undertaking risk assessments, including assessing whether children are likely to access the service. Service providers will also be obliged to implement proportionate systems to minimise illegal content, remove it as soon as possible, and minimise the time it is uploaded for.“Harm” is likely to be defined expansively in the legislation to include psychological harm which could have wide-ranging consequences for social media giants which have faced backlash failing to make their platforms safe.

Certain types of services will be exempt from the OSB including:

  • Emails, SMS and MMS messages;
  • One-to-one live aural communications;
  • Internal business services;
  • Services provided by public bodies;
  • Limited functionality services (e.g. media articles, reviews, comments, like/dislike buttons and emojis).

The OSB confers powers on the Office of Communications (OFCOM) to monitor compliance and enforce the OSB. OFCOM is set to have the power to issue fines of up to £18 million or 10% of qualifying worldwide revenue, whichever is higher.

Critics say the OSBneeds more clarity and question whether it gives ministers too much power to decide what is said online. Further controversy surrounds the fact that the OSB’s remit excludes ‘comment’ sections under news articles which can be a hot bed of trolling and defamation. Time will tell what the final form of the OSB will look like, but the consequences for online service providers are sure to be far-reaching.

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