'Huge moment' as Online Safety Bill introduced to parliament

The Online Safety Bill has been introduced to parliament today (17 March), in what has been highlighted as a “huge moment for the safety of all internet users”.

The bill was described as a “milestone” in the fight for a digital age that is safe for users and holds tech giants to account, introducing a number of new requirements that aim to help clamp down on online harms.

Following growing industry and political pressure, paid-for advertising will now also be included in the scope of the bill, with this expected to help clamp down on ads with unlicensed financial promotions and fraudsters impersonating legitimate businesses.

Alongside this, the government has now confirmed that executives whose companies fail to cooperate with Ofcom’s information requests could now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the bill becoming law, instead of two years as it was previously drafted.

Commenting on the introduction of the bill, Digital Secretary, Nadine Dorries, said: “The internet has transformed our lives for the better. It’s connected us and empowered us.

"But on the other side, tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework.

“We don’t give it a second’s thought when we buckle our seat belts to protect ourselves when driving. Given all the risks online, it’s only sensible we ensure similar basic protections for the digital age. If we fail to act, we risk sacrificing the wellbeing and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unchecked algorithms.

“Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the UK the safest place to go online.”

Indeed, the bill has undergone a number of amendments since its initial drafting, including the adoption of 66 of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill's recommendations.

Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill chair, Damian Collins, highlighted the bill's introduction to parliament as "a huge moment for the safety of all internet users".

"The UK is leading the world with legislation to finally hold social media companies for the offences that take place on their platforms, like hate speech, fraud, terrorism, and child abuse," he continued.

“The Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill set out a clear list of recommendations back in December, on how to make the bill stronger, whilst also protecting freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

“I’m very glad to see that the government has adopted so many of our recommendations, ensuring we really will make the UK the safest place to be online in the world. The era of self-regulation for big tech has finally come to an end."

Industry experts have also welcomed the news, with Aviva fraud prevention director, Rob Lee, arguing that the bill could "not be more urgent" amid the increasing cost of living and financial stress.

He stated: "Online fraud has undermined consumer trust in financial services, and put millions of people at risk of falling victim to scam adverts and fraudulent promotions online. “We welcome the draft legislation, and will be reviewing it in detail to ensure that it lives up to the government’s aim for the UK to be the safest country in the world to be online.

"This legislation could not be more urgent, as it comes at a time of significant increases in the cost of living and increased financial stress – and we know that fraudsters target and exploit people with low financial resilience.”

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