Online safety bill suspended after Boris Johnson resigns

The British government’s controversial online safety bill has been delayed. The bill, seen as one of the Johnson government’s flagship efforts, looks likely to be held back and potentially significantly revamped following the prime minister’s resignation.

The bill theoretically aims to put the responsibility for protecting users online on the back of platforms and social networks. It created controversy from the start by giving power to Ofcom to directly fine companies that hosted “lawful but harmful” content. While this approach was praised by child safety campaigners, it was noted that in practice this would have privacy implications and was potentially unworkable.

Christie Dennehy-Neil, Head of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, IAB UK, said: “Following the announcement that the next parliamentary stage of the Online Safety Bill has been postponed, we at IAB UK continue to ‘urge the government to remove fraudulent advertisements from the scope of the bill on the grounds that it should already be comprehensively addressed under the online advertising scheme.

The Online Safety Bill has been controversial for its merging of several different issues regarding privacy and online behavior / Tobias Tullius

“From the outset, we have argued that the duplication of emphasis on fraudulent advertisements in the two programs creates unnecessary regulatory fragmentation and risks limiting the development of appropriate policies. We will continue to push for this outcome a once the new leader of the Conservative Party is in place and we have more clarity on the future of the online safety bill.”

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For example, it was noted that the bill seemed to misunderstand the mechanisms and reasons for end-to-end encryption. This has long been a criticism of the government by privacy campaigners, who argue that changes to remove the privacy offered by encryption and anonymity make vulnerable people more vulnerable to discrimination and harm.

Privacy campaigners have also pointed out that an exemption for “publishers” is nebulously worded and would allow some bad actors to avoid scrutiny anyway. Dr. Heidi Beirich is co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. She said: “The government must remove the harmful exclusions that threaten to render this bill unenforceable, and worse than having no new regulations at all. Exemptions for media and speech of democratic significance are poorly drafted, open to abuse, and should be removed entirely. Additionally, paid advertisements must be fully integrated. »

Due to the disruption caused by Johnson’s resignation, the bill is unlikely to pass the Commons before MPs retire for the summer recess. A parliamentary staffer confirmed to Politico that the bill was likely one of the casualties of the disruption and would now not go to the Commons until July 21.

One of Johnson’s possible successors, former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, criticized the bill, saying the government should not “legislate for hurt feelings”.

The bill has already undergone a number of changes. In March, its remit was expanded to place more emphasis on the platforms’ responsibility to remove fraudulent ads during its second reading. At the time Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, said: “The Government now accepting the principle that fraudulent advertisements must be included and that companies who are paid to publish advertisements must be responsible for them, is a crucial first step.

“Until now, only user-generated scams were covered, which risked pushing more fraudulent advertisements, causing criminals to change their strategy. Yet this is a complex area. Now we and others must analyze all elements of this new part of the bill and work with the government and parliament to close any hiding places or loopholes that scammers can exploit.

The consolidation of a number of issues in a single bill has made it vulnerable to criticism from all quarters. However, the delay is unlikely to kill calls for changes to make platforms more accountable for the content they publish, and other issues related to fraudulent online ads are endemic to discussions of internet legislation. . Even if the bill is delayed, the marketing industry and privacy activists will likely have more to consider when it is brought back later.

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