Joint parliamentary committee to scrutinise Online Safety Bill

MPs and Lords launch a joint parliamentary committee to examine the government’s upcoming online security bill.

The new committee is already seek the public’s opinion of your views of the legislation, which the government says will safeguard freedom of expression online, will increase the liability of tech giants and protect users from harm online.

Under the bill’s legal “duty of care”, technology companies that host user-generated content or allow people to communicate will be legally obligated to proactively identify, remove, and limit the spread of illegal and legal content. but harmful, such as child sexual abuse, terrorism, and suicide material, or they could be fined up to 10% of their billing by the online damage regulator, now confirmed as Ofcom.

The joint committee is chaired by Rep. Damian Collins, former chairman of the House of Commons DCMS Select Committee, who previously led an investigation into disinformation and “fake news” that concluded by calling for an end to self-regulation of media companies. social.

“The online safety bill is about finally establishing a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content and ultimately holding tech giants accountable for the role their technology plays in promoting it. Collins said.

“The next step in this process is the detailed scrutiny of the bill. This is a once in a generation piece of legislation that will update our laws for the digital age, ”he said.

“We now have a supercommittee of parliamentarians and colleagues, with extensive experience in this area, who will work together to review this bill line by line to make sure it is fit for purpose. Freedom of expression is at the heart of our democracy, but so is fighting movements that seek to harm and dehumanize people. In the age of social media, we haven’t yet struck that balance right, and now is the time to fix it. “

The committee is scheduled to report its findings to the government on December 10, 2021, and will also seek opinions specifically on how the bill compares to online safety legislation in other countries.

On July 22, a report from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee said that while welcoming the bill’s proposals to force tech platforms to remove illegal content and protect children from harm , does not endorse the government’s plan to have companies moderate content that is legal, but may be objectionable to some.

Instead, the Lords argued that existing laws, such as those relating to harassment or extremely offensive posts, should be properly enforced and any serious harm that has not been made illegal should be criminalized.

“We are not convinced that they are feasible or that they can be implemented without unjustifiable and unprecedented interference with freedom of expression. If a type of content is seriously harmful, it must be defined and criminalized through primary legislation, ”wrote their peers.

“It would be more effective, and more consistent with the value that has historically been placed on freedom of expression in the UK, to address content that is legal, but may find it distressing by some through strong regulation of platform design, education for digital citizenship, and regulation of competition “.

Joint committee

The Chairman of the Communications and Digital Committee, Lord Gilbert, is also a member of the new joint committee that is being launched.

In late June 2021, the newly formed Legal to Say campaign group. Legal to Type also criticized the bill for being too simplistic and giving too much power to Silicon Valley companies over free speech in the UK.

Speaking at a group launch press conference, Conservative MP David Davis, who characterized the bill as a “statute of censorship,” said: “Silicon Valley vendors are asked to adjudicate and censor content.” legal but harmful. ”Due to the vagueness of the criteria and the size of the fine, we know what they are going to do: they will lean heavily on the side of caution.

“Anything that can be characterized as disinformation will be censored. Silicon Valley megacorporations will be the arbiters of truth online. The effect on freedom of expression will be terrible. “

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