The Online Safety Bill is currently going back to Report Stage in the Commons on 16th January, and is widely expected to be in the Lords for the end of the month, or beginning of February. We anticipate it could complete its legislative passage by June.
At the end of last year, a widely publicised change to the Online Safety Bill took out the so-called “legal but harmful” clauses for adults. The government has claimed this is protecting free speech.
However, in their place, new clauses have been shunted in that create a regime for state-mandated enforcement of tech companies’ terms and conditions. It raises new concerns around embedded power for the tech companies and a worrying lack of transparency around the way that the regulator, Ofcom, will act as enforcer-in-chief.
Whatever they say goes
It is not a good look for free speech. It does not alter the underlying framework of the Bill that establishes rules by which private companies will police our content. On the other hand, it does create a shift in emphasis away from merely “taking down” troublesome content, and towards “acting against users”.
For policy geeks, the change removed Clauses 12 and 13 of the Bill, concerning “content harmful to adults”. The clauses regarding harmful content for children, Clauses 10 and 11, remain.
The two deleted clauses have been replaced by five new clauses addressing the terms of service of the tech companies. If their terms of service say they will “act against” content of