General News

The Changes Made to the Online Safety Bill

The government have recently published an updated version of The Online Safety Bill, after it has gone through Parliamentary Scrutiny. The outcome of this is, according to the government, a stronger and more clarified version of the Bill. Below I'll detail the key differences between the original draft version and the updated version of the Bill. The information for this comes from the government website which breaks down the refined version of the Online Harms Bill, which can be visited by clicking here.

  1. Introduced a new standalone duty in the Bill requiring Category 1 and Category 2A services to take action to minimise the likelihood of fraudulent adverts being published on their service. This will make it harder for fraudsters to advertise scams online, and if Category 1 and Category 2A services fail to take adequate action they could face enforcement action.

  2. Included priority offences on the face of the primary legislation. This means Ofcom can take faster enforcement action against tech firms which fail to remove the named illegal content, rather than waiting for the offences to be made a priority in secondary legislation.

  3. Added further measures to tackle anonymous abuse by requiring Category 1 services to ensure adult users are given the option to verify their identity, and tools to have more control over the legal content that they see and who they interact with — this would include providing adults with the option not to interact with unverified users.

  4. Accepted the Law Commission’s recommendations on harm-based, false and threatening communications. These new offences will help ensure that the criminal law is focused on the most harmful behaviour whilst protecting freedom of expression, by ensuring that communications that are intended to contribute to the public interest are not prosecuted (the harms-based offence will also cover behaviour such as sending flashing images to epilepsy sufferers).

  5. Added a provision to the Bill to require all service providers that publish or display pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing this content. All services included in this provision will be subject to the same enforcement measures as other services in the Bill.

  6. Amended the legislation to no longer defer the power to bring in criminal sanctions for failures to comply with information notices. This will instead be introduced as soon as possible after Royal Assent, ensuring that online safety becomes, and remains, a key topic of discussion in boardroom conversations amongst senior executives.

  7. Amended the definition of harmful content accessed by adults so that all categories of such content will be voted on by Parliament, ensuring that platforms cannot be incentivised to over-remove legal material due to taking a wider interpretation of harm than we intend.

  8. Added provisions for Ofcom to recommend the use of tools for content moderation, user profiling and behaviour identification and attached strong safeguards to ensure these are used only where necessary and where it is proportionate to the harms posed. We have made sure the use of these tools will be transparent to users, and will be applied appropriately in relation to illegal content and content that is harmful to children — it won’t apply to private messaging.

The full version of the Bill can be found here.