Criminal Liability Will Be Added to the UK’s Online Safety Bill

Big Tech executives may find themselves facing UK prosecution or jail time sooner than expected as the target date for Online Safety Bill (OSB) enforcement collapses to within two months of becoming law, rather than the two years originally proposed. Several new offenses have been added to the bill, including criminal liability for those who destroy evidence, fail to cooperate with Ofcom investigations or impede regulatory inspections. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube can all expect audits for the sort of harmful content the OSB seeks to address.

“Today marks an important step towards creating a safer life online for the UK’s children and adults,” Ofcom tweeted on behalf of chief executive Melanie Dawes Thursday, the day the bill was to be presented to Parliament.

“Tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behavior have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework,” MP Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said in an announcement. News content “will be completely exempt from any regulation under the Bill,” which promises to monitor algorithms.

CNBC says the bill, which provides an arsenal of new accountability tools, “could become law later this year” as it continues to be refined.

Since initially proposed in 2019 the bill has gone through amendments “but a consistent aim from the start was to give communications regulator Ofcom a raft of legal powers to impose its will on the Internet,” writes “The main mechanism for this is a greatly enhanced ability for it to punish Internet platforms that don’t do what they’re told.”

The Online Safety Bill “aims to make it mandatory for social media services, search engines and other platforms … to uphold their stated terms and conditions,” CNBC writes, noting the government has added provisions that make “senior managers at tech firms criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom, and for obstructing the watchdog when it enters company offices.”

Big Tech is “already required to take down illegal content after it has been reported to them. But governments want them to act more quickly,” Bloomberg writes, explaining that “the biggest platforms and their apps will be classed as ‘Category One’ and also have to clamp down on legal-but-harmful content, the specifics of which will be added by lawmakers later.”

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