Houses of Parliament sign off the Online Safety Bill

Houses of Parliament sign off the Online Safety Bill

The long awaited Online Safety Bill has been signed off by both Houses of Parliament. The Bill has had a difficult road littered with bolt-ons, amendments and U-turns, and at this point it has already outlived four British Prime Ministers. However, it seems we are finally there, and barring something exceptional it will now become law.

Once the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes the “Online Safety Act”, the UK will be in a brave new world with unprecedented levels of responsibility placed on online service providers to (among other things):

  • remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place;
  • prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content;
  • enforce age limits and age-checking measures;
  • ensure the risks and dangers posed to children on the largest social media platforms are more transparent, including by publishing risk assessments; and
  • provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise.

The duties will be backed by GDPR-style fines and a regulator sporting real “teeth”.

It will be at least a few months until there is a clearer picture of what Ofcom will expect businesses to do to comply, for example when it comes to carrying out initial risk assessments. Ofcom has said that it will begin its consultation process shortly after Royal Assent.

Will the Act achieve its goal of making the UK the safest place in the world to go online? We’ll see. Meanwhile, we are already seeing Ofcom informally reach out to online service providers, to establish contact and kickstart the discussion about online safety.

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