Queen’s Speech: legislation of interest to technology lawyers

New proposed legislation covers online harms, drones, broadband as well as new initiatives in the space technology sector.

The new session of parliament was opened on 14 October with a number of pieces of legislation mentioned in the Queen’s Speech which may be of interest to technology lawyers, though any General Election may mean that these proposals do not make much progress before Parliament is dissolved. 

Online harms legislation

The April 2019 Online Harms White Paper set out the UK government’s plan for new legislation to deal with online harms. The proposals, as set out in the White Paper, were a new duty of care on companies towards their users, with an independent regulator to oversee this framework. The government says that it wants to keep people safe online, in a proportionate way, ensuring that freedom of expression is upheld and promoted online, and businesses do not face undue burdens.

The government seeks to do this by ensuring that companies have the right processes and systems in place to fulfil their obligations, rather than penalising them for individual instances of unacceptable content. The government carried out a consultation earlier in 2019 and is now analysing the responses and considering the issues raised. 

The government will publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny. Before this, it will publish work on dealing with terrorist use of the internet and as well as use by those engaged in child sexual abuse and exploitation, to ensure companies deal with content that threatens UK national security and the physical safety of children. The government is also taking forward additional measures such as a media literacy strategy, with the aim of helping users to stay safe online. A safety by design framework aims to help start-ups and small businesses to embed safety during the development or update of their products and services.

Broadband

The government plans legislation to help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure

broadband networks to millions of homes. It will roll out gigabit capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage as soon as possible; make it easier for telecoms companies to install broadband infrastructure in blocks of flats; and ensure that all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet speeds.

The main elements of the legislation are:

  • Creating a cheaper and faster light-touch tribunal process for telecoms companies to obtain interim code rights (or access rights) for a period of up to 18 months. This will mean that they can install broadband connections where the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access.
  • Amending the Building Act 1984 so that building regulations require all new build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections.
  • Requiring developers to work with broadband companies to install gigabit-capable connections in virtually all new build developments, up to a cost cap.

Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to maintain the UK’s position as a world-leader in aviation, ensuring that regulations keep pace with new technology. The Bill also aims to ensure that the police are able to  effectively deal with the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft, including drones and model aircraft. 

According to the government, the main benefits of the Bill would be making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner through the modernisation of UK airspace; and improving public safety through greater police enforcement powers, deterring unlawful use of unmanned aircraft and ensuring that offenders are quickly dealt with in the appropriate manner.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • New government powers to direct an airport or other relevant body to prepare and submit a proposal to the Civil Aviation Authority to change the design of airspace.
  • Modernising the licensing framework for air traffic control.
  • New police powers to tackle the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft. These include the ability to require a person to land an unmanned aircraft and enhanced stop and search powers where particular unmanned aircraft related offences have taken place. 

Science, space and infrastructure

The government is committed to establishing the UK as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.  It plans to launch a National Space Council and a space strategy as well as new approaches to funding for emerging technology.

Published: 2019-10-15T17:00:00

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