Culture secretary

No plan to ‘water down’ online safety reform plans – Culture Secretary

The Culture Secretary has insisted the new government has no plans to water down proposals for new internet safety laws, amid plans for ‘changes’ to the proposed legislation.

The fate of the Online Safety Bill under a new Tory government was somewhat unclear, with the new Prime Minister making it clear earlier this month that the bill would return to the House of Commons.

Some charities and campaigners had expressed concerns about any delay in passing the legislation, while others had urged the government to re-examine areas which critics say could have a chilling effect on freedom of movement. expression online.

Michelle Donelan, speaking amid a return to the normal cut of politics after the Queen’s funeral on Monday, insisted the legislation just needs to be changed.

My clear goal is to get this bill back to the House quickly, change what little we have been very outspoken about, and make sure it passes.

Michelle Donelan

The bill aims to force the biggest operators, such as Meta, formerly Facebook, and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new industry regulator.

Companies that fail to comply with the laws could be fined up to 10% of their annual global turnover and will also be forced to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites.

The bill will also require pornography websites to use age verification technology to prevent children from accessing content on their sites, and the biggest social media platforms and search engines will be required to do so. prevent fraudulent advertising.

Critics of the bill say the measures risk turning social media platforms into “online police” and that attempts to define “legal but harmful” content are “overbearing”.

Ms Donelan confirmed that it was the ‘legal but harmful’ wording that officials would consider, while stressing that the provisions aimed at protecting children would remain unchanged.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m not going to announce today exactly how we’re going to change this, as due process will be to do so in Parliament.

“But this element is in relation to adults. Elements relating to children and online safety will not change. And that’s the overarching goal of the bill, and that’s why we put it in our manifesto.

She continued: “We will ensure that the children are protected. The main part of the bill is to make it a priority for social media providers and websites that generate user content and make sure that if they do it the wrong way, we can impose massive fines on them. , which would be very punitive and prevent them from doing it again.

“I’ve only been in the role for two weeks, I’m going to watch the bill in circles. But my clear goal is to get this bill back to the House quickly, change what little we’ve been very outspoken about, and make sure we get it into law.

Calling herself a ‘champion’ of free speech, Ms Donelan said: ‘We are a government that will take bold and decisive decisions, but if there are things that need to be reviewed, we certainly won’t hesitate. to do it.”

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said the Culture Secretary’s comments were “really encouraging”.

But he warned that further delay could not be tolerated as he called for a “culture change” at the top of tech companies.

“Further delay or dilution of legislation is inconceivable for families across the UK who continue to pay a terrible price for the failure of tech companies to design their products to be safe for children” , said Mr. Burrows.

“To solve this problem requires a change of culture at the top of these companies, which can only be done by giving Ofcom the power to hold senior managers personally accountable for the systems and processes that expose children to a risk of serious harm.”