Civil liberties groups have warned that the Online Safety Bill will fundamentally undermine human rights in the UK. In a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the organisations, which include Big Brother Watch, Liberty and Index on censorship say that the Bill seriously threatens the rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The legislation, which has been paused in recent months, places obligations on online platforms to police online speech and even targets expressly lawful expression where Ministers consider it to be “harmful”.
In their letter to the independent UN expert, the organisations raise concerns about the Bill’s legal but harmful powers. The civil liberties campaigners warn that the inclusion of these measures would result in the censorship of online speech which is “permitted in the offline world and are protected under international human rights law”. The groups also argue that powers granted by the Bill to the Secretary of State could result in “political censorship”.
Signatories also raised concerns about social media companies enforcing UK laws, rather than courts, as well as powers in the Bill which would undermine end-to-end encryption. UN Special Rapporteurs can issue communications to states urging them to address alleged or threatened human rights violations.
Commenting, Legal and Policy Officer at Big Brother Watch, Mark Johnson said:
“The Online Safety Bill is a censor’s charter which seriously threatens the rights to freedom of speech and privacy in the UK. Human rights experts have continuously warned that the legislation is seriously flawed.