Briefing to inform the Third Reading debate in the House of Commons on 17 January 2023
Unintended consequences of the Online Safety Bill mean a trio of surveillance, prior restraint of speech, and restriction on access to online content and services.
The Bill seeks to protect children online, but its measures’ effect extends far beyond the policy aim, with unintended consequences for the whole of society. Government focuses on the content it wants to ban, with little attention paid to the impact on freedom of expression or privacy.
This Bill vastly increases online surveillance of British people without any judicial or administrative oversight. It will institute a de facto “general monitoring” and proactive scanning. This means all users’ posts, public and private, every day, all the time. It will force aggressive age-gating via the implementation of AI-driven systems to collect biometric data.
Flexibility for the government means legal uncertainty for providers and users.
The text’s lack of definition or precision leaves wide open loopholes for over-removals of content and the possibility of government-imposed privatised surveillance. Providers and users simply don’t know what is intended and are put in a position of legal uncertainty. Given the enormous implications for freedom of expression and privacy rights, this is a deep flaw. It should specify precisely what the government intends, and if the government does not plan any interference with these rights, it should say so on the face of the Bill.
Trio of Surveillance, not triple-shield