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Online Safety Bill

A milestone for the digital age - will the Online Safety Bill "make the UK the safest place to go online"? Read our commentary and keep up to date with the latest developments.

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The UK Government's "world-first" Online Safety Bill imposes new legal requirements on providers of social media apps, internet services and internet search engines and promises a new era of accountability online.

With the internet forming an increasingly integral aspect of our daily lives, there has been growing public concern about the potential harm that can be caused online. Alongside the benefits of the internet, connecting people with others and providing access to a wealth of information, come risks such as cyber-bullying, misinformation and harmful and explicit content. 

Often harmful content and actions online fall short of criminal activity, and in those circumstances, it has proven especially difficult to protect internet users from harm.  

The Online Safety Bill ("the Bill"), introduced to parliament on 17 March 2022, establishes a new regulatory regime to address illegal and harmful content online. The Bill imposes new legal requirements on providers of internet services and internet search engines as well as new powers to enable the Office of Communications ("OFCOM") to act as the online safety regulator.

The focus is to force social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites, which allow people to post their own content, to take responsibility for tackling illegal activity, protecting children online, and upholding their stated terms and conditions. The Bill introduces a raft of requirements for such companies, with the regulator OFCOM being given the power to fine companies failing to comply and to block non-compliant sites.

The Bill also introduces criminal liability for executives of companies failing to comply with requests for information from the regulator or who are found to have destroyed evidence or provided false information. 

The introduction of the Bill follows the publication of the Online Harms White Paper published in April 2019 and a subsequent process of consultation and recommendation, for which Howard Kennedy Partner Mark Stephens CBE acted as a consultant. Proposals were then subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of MPs and Peers, who published their report in December 2021. The Bill will now make its way through the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

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