Freedom of Speech and the Online Safety Bill
Freedom of Speech and the Online Safety Bill

Thank you for contacting me about freedom of speech and the draft Online Safety Bill.

I know people feel very strongly about this issue and I agree in the importance of protecting freedom of speech.

As you know, the Online Safety Bill was published in March 2022 and passed its Second Reading on 19 April.

I do not think the Online Safety Bill is ambitious or broad enough to tackle the issues at their root.

The Bill will establish a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of users, overseen and enforced by Ofcom.

The Government has said that the Bill will not prevent adults from accessing or posting legal content or require companies to remove specific pieces of legal content. It says the largest and riskiest services will be required to set out their policies regarding content that is legal but harmful to adults and enforce these consistently, and that users will have access to mechanisms to appeal decisions.

As you know, the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill’s report states that Clause 11, which covers content that is “harmful to adults”, should be removed. It makes recommendations for a “narrower, but stronger, regulatory requirement for service providers to identify and mitigate risks of harm in the online world that may not necessarily meet the criminal thresholds”.

I believe the Bill should tackle legal but harmful content and urge Ministers to adopt the Joint Committee’s recommendations in full. In my view, the Bill was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to target dangerous elements of the Internet that have real world consequences.

We need effective, fit-for-purpose legislation that cracks down on the harms, hate and fake news that flourishes online. It is vital we protect young and vulnerable people from online harms.

I have long argued that the legislation should contain criminal sanctions for senior tech executives who repeatedly breach the new law, and therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to this. However, I believe they must be contained within the Bill as a default.

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