Online harms law to let regulator block apps in UK

15th December, 2020 12:06 pm

Source: BBC

UK watchdog Ofcom is set to gain the power to block access to online services that fail to do enough to protect children and other users.

The regulator would also be able to fine Facebook and other tech giants billions of pounds, and require them to publish an audit of efforts to tackle posts that are harmful but not illegal.

The government is to include the measures in its Online Harms Bill.

The proposed law would not introduce criminal prosecutions, however.

Nor would it target online scams and other types of internet fraud.

This will disappoint campaigners, who had called for the inclusion of both.

It will, however, allow Ofcom to demand tech firms take action against child abuse imagery shared via encrypted messages, even if the apps in question are designed to stop their makers from being able to peer within.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden told parliament the legislation represented “decisive action” to protect both children and adults online.

“A 13-year-old should no longer be able to access pornographic images on Twitter, YouTube will not be allowed to recommend videos promoting terrorist ideologies and anti-Semitic hate crimes will need to be removed without delay.”

And he said that the government would introduce secondary legislation to introduce criminal sanctions for senior managers”, if those changes did not come about.

Mr Dowden made a commitment to bring the bill before parliament in 2021, but it might not be until 2022 or later before it comes into force.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said there were signs that new laws would have “teeth”, including strong sanctions for companies found to be in breach of their duties.

She welcomed the requirement on messaging apps to use technology to identify child abuse and exploitation material when directed to by the regulator.

“However, much will rest on the detail behind these announcements, which we will be looking at closely,” she added.

The TechUK trade association said “significant clarity” was needed about how the proposals would work in practice, adding that the “prospect of harsh sanctions” risked discouraging investment in the sector.

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