Online Safety Bill

JUSTICE briefed on the Online Safety Bill ahead of its second reading in the House of Lords.

The Online Safety Bill was introduced in March 2022 and sets out a framework for the regulation of online service providers. It responds to the growing concern about online harms, and the need to protect service users, especially children, from harmful and illegal content online.

JUSTICE recognises these concerns and is broadly supportive of stronger online regulation, particularly with respect to child sexual exploitation and abuse (“CSEA”) content. As highlighted in our report, Prosecuting Sexual Offences (2019), JUSTICE considers the introduction of appropriate regulation of internet services as an important step in preventing CSEA.

In our briefing, we welcome the fact that a number of our report’s recommendations are reflected in the Bill. These include:

  • Placing a duty on online service providers to act with regard to CSEA content online.
  • Promoting greater accountability by requiring service providers to produce transparency reports.

Nevertheless, JUSTICE also considers that the Bill could go further in tackling the proliferation of CSEA online. In our briefing we recommend that the Bill:

  • Make explicit that once provided to OFCOM transparency reports are to be made publicly available, subject to appropriate redactions.
  • Impose minimum transparency reporting requirements in relation CSEA content.
  • Enhance OFCOM’s duties with regard to improving media literacy.

Finally, our briefing addresses several areas of concern with the Bill with respect to its implications for freedom of expression. In particular, we are concerned that:

  • The Bill does not go far enough in protecting users from over-moderation by online service providers.
  • The Bill would give too much power to the Secretary of State in relation to OFCOM’s policies and the setting of priority content to be regulated by the Bill.

House of Lords Second Reading Briefing
Read our briefing here (January 2023)