Mar 17, 2022 - Technology

U.K. introduces online safety bill

Illustration of a siren flashing on top of a computer.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Britain's government has introduced an online safety bill that aims to strike a balance between holding tech firms more accountable and preserving robust free speech.

Why it matters: The move comes as regulators and legislators around the world are seeking to tighten the rules that govern everything from online privacy to competition in the digital world.

Details: The British government said in a statement that the goal of the bill is to "protect children, public safety and safeguard free speech." It imposes new rules on tech companies and adds oversight powers to Ofcom, the British communications regulator, while exempting news content from any new restrictions.

Catch-up quick: The bill was first published in draft form in May 2021. Since then, changes have been made to strengthen its provisions, including:

  • Ensuring websites that publish or host pornography, including commercial sites, require that users are 18 years old or older.
  • Adding new measures that give people more control over who can contact them and what they see online, as part of an effort to limit the reach of anonymous trolls.
  • Requiring tech companies to act more quickly against a wide range of illegal content.
  • Making it a crime to flash someone online.

Between the lines: With Britain now separate from the EU, it sees an opportunity to provide another voice in the debate over how best to regulate technology, envisioning itself ideologically as somewhere between the permissiveness of the U.S. and the paternalism of the EU.

What they're saying: "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," U.K. Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said in a statement.

Go deeper