Online Safety Bill Triple shield or triple surveillance?

Update on the Parliamentary amendments

The Online Safety Bill is back in Parliament. It had been stalled for five months whilst the government made a few changes. A Parliamentary debate on Monday (5th December) revealed the shift in policy direction for the first time. It’s relatively small change, with big implications.

According to the government, the Online Safety Bill is supposed to protect children. However, from a digital rights perspective it is probably the most worrying piece of legislation ever imagined to date. The government’s focus is on the content it wants to ban, with little attention paid to the impact on freedom of expression or privacy. The lack of definition or precision in the text leaves wide open loopholes for over-removals of content and the possibility of government- imposed, privatised surveillance.

The emphasis was on new amendments to be tabled early next year. Self-harm content, deep fakes and the sharing of non-consensual intimate images, will be defined as new criminal offences and illegal content.

The subtle policy shift turns on a requirement for large online platforms to tackle the so-called “legal but harmful” content. This is a legally-problematic, grey area. It is about content that is not illegal but which the government wants to ban, and understood to include eating disorders, self-harm, and false claims about medicines.

The government has announced a plan to delete this requirement, but only for adult users, not for children. An amendment will be tabled next week.

A further, legally problematic, amendment requires platforms

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