On 19th September, the UK’s House of Parliament signed off the long-awaited Online Safety Bill. The bill, introduced last March, aims to protect online users and is expected to be in effect soon.
Calling the bill as a “game-changer” piece of legislation, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said “Today, this government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”.
UK regulatory agency Ofcom plans to enforce legislation that will require companies to assess the likelihood of users encountering illegal content and protect children from harmful online content.
Under this bill, which is waiting for royal assent to be enforced, social media platforms will be held accountable for the content they host. These online platforms will be legally obligated to immediately delete illegal content such as hate speech, terrorist propaganda, and child sexual abuse material. In addition, they will have to take action to prevent it from being displayed in the first place.
The Online Safety Bill introduces a strict regulatory framework that takes a zero-tolerance approach to protecting children. Online platforms must take on more responsibility in enforcing strict age limits and age verification methods to prevent minors from accessing age-inappropriate content.
Furthermore, major social media platforms will be obligated to act more transparently regarding the potential risks children and young people may face while using their services. As part of this law, they will be mandated to issue risk assessments. This law will also make sure that online platforms have a way for kids and parents to report problems online.
“Our common-sense approach will deliver a better future for British people, by making sure that what is illegal offline is illegal online,” the Technology Secretary continued. “It puts protecting children first, enabling us to catch keyboard criminals and crack down on the heinous crimes they seek to commit.”
Failing to comply with the regulations detailed in the bill will lead companies to hefty fines—up to 18 million pounds ($22.3 million) or 10% of their annual global turnover. In the worst case, the bosses who violate the law may face prison.
Messaging platforms operated by Meta’s WhatsApp opposed a provision in the legislation as it could compel them to compromise their end-to-end encryption.
The policymakers, in response, confirmed that the bill, in no way, bans end-to-end encryption. The government said that the main goal of the regulation is to protect children from harm, especially from sexual predators. As a last resort, it may require enforcing a system to scan encrypted messages.
Tech companies, however, commented that end-to-end encryption and scanning messages are conflicting.
The Online Safety Bill fosters rigorous age verification on digital platforms, requiring companies to balance age checking with privacy. Online platforms, regardless of their size, should use digital identity services like Yoti to comply with regulations. These services offer different options to verify age. Such age-high-end services ensure top-notch data security while also ensuring age verification is inclusive and easily accessible to all users.
To sum up, the passing of the Online Safety Bill highlights the UK’s commitment to enabling a safer digital landscape for all, particularly children and vulnerable adults.
Sohela is an electrical engineer and a self-professed writer with a keen interest in all things tech. When she’s not writing killer content pieces, you’ll find her enjoying tempting foods in her favourite restaurants.