The House of Commons passed the Online Safety Bill to the House of Lords. But the Online Safety Bill—the UK’s attempt to make the Internet safer by regulating how online services handle content, protect children, and remove illegal speech—still contains measures that stifle free expression, threaten privacy and private communications, and harm digital competition.
The government previously made some improvements to the Online Safety Bill, such as dropping restrictions on “legal but harmful” content for adults to better protect free speech. But the UK government has not addressed other fatal flaws in the bill and worsened it through amendments.
These are the fundamental problems with the current Online Safety Bill and its confirmed changes:
- Ambiguous restrictions on prohibited speech could cause online services to remove valuable, legal content users want to see online.
- For example, ambiguous restrictions on content about self-harm and media favorably depicting illegal immigration could lead to the removal of community support and survivor forums.
- Incentivizing services to not use end-to-end encryption so that they can monitor for illegal content will jeopardize users’ privacy and security.
- Mandating age assurance and verification would make it harder to remain anonymous online, deterring users who fear government surveillance from logging on to a variety of websites.
- Higher compliance costs could mean only large companies can afford to comply and leave smaller firms and international entrants wary of the UK market.
- Companies could either leave the UK entirely or subject their non-UK user base to similar rules to reduce costs and maximize efficiency.
- Holding senior tech employees criminally liable if they fail to protect children on their services will spur online services to over-moderate content potentially harmful to children for all users to avoid the risk of jail time for their employees.
- Read more about why the Online Safety Bill would ruin private communications.
- Learn about the provisions criminalizing senior tech employees as described in The Critic.
- Read about the latest changes using reporting from The Guardian.
- Read previous analysis of the Online Safety Bill from the Center for Data Innovation.
- Learn more about an alternative path forward for the Online Safety Bill.