Online Safety Bill still faces serious problems

Responding to the Government’s Online Safety Bill, Robert Colvile, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, said:

‘The latest formulation of the Online Safety Bill makes welcome steps towards restricting the scope of the ‘legal but harmful’ aspect of the Bill, and a strengthened role for parliament is a necessary development.

‘However, we remain deeply concerned about central aspects of the Bill. The use of the ‘legal but harmful’ definition will have chilling effects on freedom of speech online, even with parliamentary oversight. By placing the burden on businesses to regulate what is shared on their platforms, we will see more and more content removed from public discourse. The incentives for platforms to be biased in favour of free expression will be severely limited, with potentially disastrous consequences for our public debate as legal content is censored just for being potentially ‘harmful’ in the eyes of the platforms.

‘The scope of the Bill remains unwieldy. This regulation will affect thousands of small businesses and ask them to comply with a burden of regulation that will be overly onerous for many.

‘Parliament must seriously consider all of the impacts of this regulation. There is a way of reaching online safety without censorship, by giving parliament the responsibility for defining what is lawful and leaving the police with the responsibility for enforcing those laws. But under the current proposals, businesses and their executives are expected to define harm, at great cost both to them and to our public discourse.’

Date Added: Thursday 17th March 2022