UK government publishes updated Online Safety Bill

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[co-author: Theo Cornish]

On 17 March 2022, the UK Government introduced the Online Safety Bill to Parliament. The Online Safety Bill will regulate providers of: services which host user-generated content online; services which facilitate online interaction between users; and search engines. It does this by imposing a range of duties on service providers, including to use proportionate systems and processes to prevent individuals from accessing illegal and harmful content on their websites. The version of the Online Safety Bill introduced to Parliament updates the previous draft that had been published in the Spring of 2021.

The update makes numerous changes, and takes the page count of the Online Safety Bill ("OSB") from 145 to 225 pages. These changes include:

  • New duties for pornographic content providers. Service providers that publish or host pornography are required to “ensure that children are not normally able to encounter” pornographic content on their service. This could involve, for example, age verification.

  • New duties around fraudulent advertising. Service providers will be required to implement systems to tackle fraudulent advertising published on their service.

  • Measures designed to reduce anonymous abuse. Service providers will be required to offer users greater control over the legal content they see and who they interact with online. This could include providing adults with the option not to interact with unverified users.

  • New offences relating to communications between users. These include a new “cyberflashing” offence.

  • Changes to criminal liability. Like the previously published version of the OSB, the new draft imposes criminal liability for senior managers who do not comply with information requests from the regulator (Ofcom). However, these senior manager offences are no longer deferred by two years, and are expected to commence two to three months after the OSB becomes law.

  • An ongoing role for Parliament. Changes to the categories of content deemed to be “harmful” under the OSB will be introduced in separate legislation that will be voted on in Parliament.

  • New powers for regulators. Ofcom will be able to set expectations around the tools which service providers should use to comply with their duties.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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