The UK government for years has been scheming legislation that helps regulate and checkmate online spaces. The Online Safety Bill contains mandatory age checks on porn sites. It also includes jail terms for tech execs who default and withhold helpful information from investigators. Since the resignation of the UK’s Prime minister, Boris Johnson as their party leader, these controversial plans already set in motion were paused as the conservative government faces an upcoming election.
The Online Safety bill was supposed to be voted on by the House of Commons next week, but according to BBC reports this vote will remain delayed till after the Parliament’s summer recess. This delay is said to be temporal but can be disastrous if it’s not considered a priority by the UK Prime minister or the next culture minister (whose role includes championing the legislation) disagrees with its entirety.
However, Kemi Badenoch, a viable candidate in the Tory leadership race has faulted the bill. as According to Badenoch the legislation is “in no fit state to become law.” Badenoch, who is currently an outsider to take over the party, dislocated that if elected as prime minister, ‘I will ensure the bill doesn’t overreach. We should not be legislating for hurt feelings.” Badenoch’s views are not unusual in the party with influential Tory backbencher David Davis recently cautioning that the said bill would put free speech in harm’s way.
The paramount essence of the Online Safety Bill is to make the UK’s online space to be the safest without prejudice and ensure maximum freedom of expression. In totality, the bill mounts pressure on popular tech platforms and popular sites like Meta, Google, Twitter and others to monitor users’ behaviour and remove harmful content and protect the rights of the users. Contents such as hate speech, bullying and misinformation that are oftentimes tagged “legal but harmful” are to be removed as well as illegal content like child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
Tech platforms that do not remove or limit users’ exposure to these contents are liable to face heavy fines and jail terms. This in turn makes companies censor their users at the expense of free speech.
Other provisions made available in this bill include making cyber-flashing a criminal offence; this makes large platforms give users a way to verify their ID (and the option to block content from unverified users).
The bill is still open to adjustments as it’s still at the report stage with the recent delay. Chances that this bill will be passed into law are in serious doubt as it was scheduled to be voted on by the UK House of Commons next week before it’ll be passed to the House of Lords for another vote.