Ofcom’s powers to regulate online harms should be increased
The Joint Select Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill was appointed to consider the UK Government's draft Online Safety Bill and recommend improvements before it goes to parliament. It has now published its report and recommended major changes to the draft Bill before it is considered by the UK parliament in 2022.
As readers will be aware, the draft Bill aims to make internet service providers responsible for what is happening on their platforms, including for crimes like child abuse, fraud, racist abuse, promoting self-harm and violence against women. There are currently few enforceable sanctions against these activities.
The main conclusions and recommendations of the Committee are as follows:
The Committee also believes the Bill should be clearer about what is specifically illegal online. They believe it should not be up to the tech companies to determine this. The Committee therefore agrees with the Law Commission’s recommendations about adding new criminal offences to the Bill. They recommend that:
Further, the report recommends that individual users should be able to make complaints to an ombudsman when platforms fail to comply with the new law. The report also recommends that a senior manager at board level or reporting to the board should be designated the "Safety Controller." In that role they would be made liable for a new offence: the failure to comply with their obligations as regulated service providers when there is clear evidence of repeated and systemic failings that result in a significant risk of serious harm to users.
The Committee believes that the Bill (including these recommendations) will be a huge step forward in keeping people safe online and protecting victims.
The government now has two months to respond to the committee before the Bill is introduced to parliament next year.