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Minister responds to question on online harms legislation

13 February 2020


Julian Knight, Chair-elect of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee asked an urgent question to the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding the Government's work on online harms legislation.

The Government, last year, proposed that they will introduce legislation for a duty of care online. This is due to growing concern about what children are being exposed to online.

The Government have appointed Ofcom to regulate the internet and have given responsibility to social media platforms to set out what content is acceptable. Ofcom will then regulate whether this has been set out transparently to users.

Matt Warman: "4 specific points raised in the consultation"

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Warman, assured the House that the Government is "taking significant action to tackle the issue of harm taking place online".

He says that the overall consensus is that "online platforms must do more to make sure their services are safe for all users".

The Online Harms White Paper proposed a statutory duty of care enforced by an independent regulator.

The Government is holding consultations on the White Paper. He says that evidence received in the consultation will help "get the balance right between an open and vibrant internet and one where users are protected for harm".

The full consultation response is currently unavailable, but will be available in Spring, Matt Warman says.

There were 4 specific points raised in the consultation:

  • to ensure that "in aiming to make the internet safer, we do not inadvertently stifle illegitimate debate". Safeguards in legislation will be put in place, giving companies and the regulator responsibility to protect user's rights online.
  • greater protection is needed to protect children online. The new framework will require companies to take steps to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate content.
  • the duty of care will only apply to companies where there is risk of harm.
  • inscope companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to protect users from harm, especially children and vulnerable people.

Matt Warman says the Government appointed Ofcom to regulate video sharing platforms to reduce harmful content. The Government plans to work with Ofcom as their regulator.

Mr Warman concluded by saying:

"This publication and the other plans we are driving forward will help to make Britain the safest place to be online and the best digital economy in the world."

Julian Knight: "genuinely bring social media companies to account"

Julian Knight responded to Matt Warman's statement saying "a regulator is nothing without the ability to genuinely disrupt the business practices to confirm that it is regulating".

He wanted the Minister to expand and assure the House that the regulator can "genuinely bring social media companies to account with simply a bit of public shaming and fines."

Matt Warman responded:

"we will be talking to Ofcom about what they believe the most effective form of regulation will be and we will obviously be feeding in our own thoughts as well."

Mr Knight also suggested a tech levy of 2% of UK incomes to fund this "super-regulator".

Matt Warman responded:

"a levy has been much discussed, he [Julian Knight] mentions one figure but we will obviously have to discuss with Ofcom to be the level of resources that they need."

Julian Knight asked if the Minister can confirm that there will be a legal duty for companies to inform users of their personal privacy rights.

Matt Warman responded:

"there will be a legal duty for companies to be more transparent with their customers."

Image: Unsplash

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