UK Lawmakers Are Taking Steps to Toughen Online Safety Bill

British lawmakers are seeking “major changes” to the forthcoming Online Safety Bill that cracks down on Big Tech but apparently does not go far enough. Expansions under discussion include legal consequences for tech firms and new rules for online fraud, advertising scams and deepfake (AI-generated) adult content. Comparing the Internet to the “Wild West,” Damian Collins, chairman of the joint committee that issued the report, went so far as to suggest corporate directors be subject to criminal liability if their companies withhold information or fail to comply with the act.

“Cyberflashing” — sending nude photos to unsuspecting recipients — is also set to be outlawed. “We’re bringing in a lot more offences onto the face of the bill that deal with things like promoting self-harm, racial abuse and other forms of abuse,” Collins told CNBC.

In February, the Internet was added to the portfolio of UK communications regulation arm Ofcom, and the committee says “the government should give Ofcom more powers to investigate, audit and fine Big Tech, adding that the regulator should also be able to set the standards by which Big Tech will be held accountable,” CNBC reports.

Echoing the battle cry of U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Collins told the news network “The era of self-regulation for Big Tech has come to an end,” demanding accountability for “services they have designed and profit from.”

The Online Safety Bill, which was originally published in May, has for the past few months been studied by lawmakers as they took evidence from stakeholders that included the victims of online hate, Facebook whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang and major tech executives, CNET says. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube were criticized for promoting harmful content, often through recommendation algorithms.

The tech firms countered with research that supported their positions, but consistently balk at requests to let academics and others parse raw data.

On conclusion of the investigatory period the joint committee (comprised of Parliamentary members of the House of Commons and peers from the House of Lords) published findings that recommend strengthened safeguards.

“The report also says the bill needs more checks and balances, arguing that it gives the Culture Secretary too much power to designate new offenses” potentially interfering with Ofcom, Bloomberg writes. The ministers will have a few weeks to respond to the report, and the bill is expected to be presented to Parliament by March.

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