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Have your say on the Online Safety Bill

20 April 2022

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Do you have relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Online Safety Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament?

If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration.

The Public Bill Committee will scrutinise the Bill line by line. The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday 24 May and the Committee is scheduled to report by Thursday 30 June. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Thursday 30 June. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

Aims of the Bill

The Bill has five policy objectives:

  • to increase user safety online.
  • to preserve and enhance freedom of speech online.
  • to improve law enforcement’s ability to tackle illegal content online.
  • to improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online.
  • to improve society’s understanding of the harm landscape.

What does the Online Safety Bill do?

The Bill would impose duties on “regulated services” (user-to-user services which share user-generated content (eg Facebook) and search services (eg Google) with “links” to the UK) in relation to three types of content:

  • illegal content.
  • content that is harmful to children.
  • content that is legal but harmful to adults.
  • All regulated services would have to protect users from illegal content. There would be additional duties for services likely to be accessed by children.

All services providing pornographic content would have a duty to prevent children from accessing that material (eg through age verification).

The largest and riskiest Category 1 service providers (such as some social media platforms) would have duties in relation to legal but harmful content to adults. The Bill would also require Category 1 providers to protect democratic debate and journalistic user-generated content.

A duty to prevent fraudulent advertising would be introduced for the largest social media platforms and search engines.

The Bill would also make changes to existing communications offences, as recommended by the Law Commission.

Ofcom would be the independent regulator. It would issue codes of practice recommending measures that service providers could take to comply with their duties. Ofcom would have enforcement powers including issuing fines of up to £18 million or 10% of a company’s worldwide revenue (whichever was higher), as well as business disruption measures.

Where would the Bill take effect?

The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that, as internet services policy is reserved, the Bill is “broadly reserved”. However, a small number of provisions would need legislative consent motions from the devolved administrations.

The Bill’s information offences would have extra-territorial application.

Follow the progress of the Online Safety Bill

The Online Safety Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 17 March 2022. Second reading was held on 19 April 2022. Oral evidence sessions are expected to be held on 24 and 26 May 2022.

draft Online Safety Bill, published in May 2021, was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. The Committee’s report was published on 14 December 2021. The Government’s response was published on 17 March 2022 and explains how the Government has incorporated sixty-six of the Committee’s recommendations into the Bill.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.

The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday 24 May and the Committee is scheduled to report by Thursday 30 June. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Thursday 30 June. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

Your submission should be emailed to scrutiny@parliament.uk

Further guidance on submitting written evidence can be found here.

Image: Parliamentary Copyright