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UK: DCMS issues draft Online Safety Bill

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport ('DCMS') issued, on 12 May 2021, the draft Online Safety Bill, accompanied by explanatory notes, an impact assessment, and delegated powers memorandum. In particular, the bill establishes a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online, giving effect to the policy approach outlined in previous government responses, and making provisions for regulation by the Office of Communications ('Ofcom') of certain internet services and in relation to media literacy. More specifically, the bill imposes duties of care on providers of regulated services and requires Ofcom to issue codes of practice relating to these duties. 

Examples of duties of care imposed on providers of user-to-user services include:

  • assessing whether a service is likely to be accessed by children;
  • illegal content risk assessment duty, which must be kept up-to-date and repeated before making any significant change to any aspect of the design or operation of a service to which such an assessment is relevant;
  • illegal content duties;
  • duties about rights to freedom of expression and privacy;
  • reporting and redress mechanisms; and
  • record keeping and review duties.

Furthermore, the bill specifies that all services must give due regard to the importance of protecting users' right to freedom of expression and protecting users from unwarranted infringements of privacy when deciding on and implementing safety policies and procedures. 

In addition, Section 82 of the bill clarifies requirements that are enforceable by Ofcom against providers of regulated services and Section 85 of the bill further provides the amount of penalties that can be imposed by Ofcom through a confirmation decision or penalty notice. Moreover, Section 85(4) of the bill outlines that where a penalty is imposed on a person in respect of a regulated service provided by that person, the maximum amount of the penalty for which the person is liable is whichever is the greater of £18 million and 10% of the person's qualifying worldwide revenue. Furthermore, for a group of entities, Section 86(3) of the bill provides that the maximum amount of the penalty is whichever is the greater of £18 million and 10% of the qualifying worldwide revenue of the group of entities of which the two entities are members.

Lastly, the explanatory notes summarise that Section 140(1) of the bill provides for when the commencement at Royal Assent of framework provisions, including definitions and interpretation clauses, and certain regulation-making powers which are needed in advance of the rest of the bill coming into force and that Clause 140(2) provides that the remaining provisions will come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint in regulations, which may be on different days.

You can read the press release here, the bill here, the explanatory notes here, the impact assessment here, and the delegated powers memorandum here.

UPDATE (12 May 2021)

Ofcom addresses new online safety powers

Ofcom released, on 12 May 2021, a press release in which it addresses the draft bill and the new responsibilities granted to Ofcom therein. In particular, Ofcom outlined that the draft bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of Parliamentarians before a final version is formally introduced to the Parliament to complete the legislative process. 

You can read the press release here

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