After years of discussions and debates, the UK government has passed the Online Safety Bill into law.
This law is designed to make the Internet a safer place for children. It will require tech companies to take more responsibility for what’s on their websites.
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan believes this law will protect the online safety of people in the UK for years to come.
However, some people are worried about what this means for privacy.
What Does the Online Safety Bill Do?
The new law makes it the responsibility of tech companies to protect children from legal but harmful content.
Ofcom, the regulator, will have more power to enforce these rules.
Some new rules include making sure that kids can’t access adult content on porn websites.
Platforms must also show they are committed to removing illegal content, such as child sexual abuse, extreme violence, and terrorism-related content.
The law also introduces new offenses like “cyber-flashing,” which is sending unsolicited sexual pictures online, and sharing “deepfake” pornography.
This is where artificial intelligence is used to put someone’s face in inappropriate images.
The law also makes it easier for parents who have lost their children to get information from tech companies.
What Else Does the Online Safety Bill Cover?
Some parts of the law allow authorities to make messaging services check encrypted messages for child abuse material.
Platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, and iMessage say they can’t access or view anyone’s messages without breaking the privacy of all users.
They’ve even threatened to leave the UK if their message security is compromised.
Proton, a mail platform focused on privacy, says it will go to court if asked to change its end-to-end encryption.
The government says they will only ask tech firms to access messages once it’s technically possible.
Wikipedia has also said it may not be able to follow some parts of the law, like age verification.
While the Online Safety Bill is often seen as a way to control big tech companies, it will also affect over 20,000 small businesses.
Who Will Enforce the Online Safety Bill?
Tech companies that break the rules could face fines of up to 10% of their global revenue or £18 million, whichever is higher.
Their leaders could even go to jail.
Ofcom will create codes of conduct to guide companies on how to follow the new rules.
The first draft codes will be available on November 9th.
Ofcom’s CEO, Dame Melanie Dawes, has assured people that their goal is not to censor content but to address the root causes of harm while respecting privacy and freedom of expression.
What Do Advocates and Critics Say?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission supports the law, seeing it as a crucial step in addressing harmful online content and behavior.
The NSPCC chief executive, Sir Peter Wanless, believes, “it will mean that children up and down the UK are fundamentally safer in their everyday lives.”
However, the fact-checking organization Full Fact, which supported the bill, believes it doesn’t go far enough in dealing with harmful misinformation and disinformation.
They worry that important decisions about free speech are left in the hands of internet companies, while dangerous health misinformation continues to spread.