Dissent Over British  Internet Safety Laws

The proposed British ’ Online Safety Bill will include legislation to fine social media companies up to 10% of their global revenues if they do not implement measures to keep children safe on their platforms. But now the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is facing a major conflict over the government's plans.

Around 40 Conservative governing party MPs are backing a plan to make social media bosses face prison if they fail to protect children from damaging content online. Their amendment to the Online Safety Bill is due to be voted on soon and the Online Safety Bill could be contributing to an outright Tory revolt as MPs push imprison media bosses who fail to uphold the law.

It remains to be seen if the prime minister will back down and offer concessions to avoid defeat in the House of Commons. As the bill stands, Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, would have the power to levy significant fines if social media platforms are found to be in breach of the new law which is designed to protect those most vulnerable from harmful online content. 

The bill does include taking "proportionate measures" to stop children seeing harmful material, including through measures such as age verification, taking content down, and parental controls.

Originally, the Online Safety Bill called for the imprisonment of social media owners found in breach of the law. Under three different Prime Ministers, however, the Bill has transformed dramatically as the UK grapples with social media content regulations. The idea was first suggested under Boris Johnson, but eventually dismissed in favour of higher fines for firms. 

Under the Conservative rebels' proposals, senior managers at tech firms could face up to two years in jail if they breach new duties to keep children safe online. The provision would not apply to search engines.

Currently the bill would only make managers criminally liable for failing to give information to media regulator Ofcom, which is set to gain wide-ranging powers to police the internet under the new law. Making managers liable for a failure to comply with broader safety duties in the bill was rejected after a discussion ahead of the bill's introduction, which concluded it could make the UK tech sector less attractive.

The opposition Labour Party has confirmed they would support the policy, and 10 Downing Street said they will “carefully consider” the proposed amendment. 

Companies failing in their legal duties, including protecting children, could be fined up to 10% of global revenue, however, supporters of the amendment, including child protection charities, argue that only personal liability for company bosses will ensure the child safety provisions are effective.

The Conservative rebels point to the construction and financial services industries, which have similar personal liabilities for company managers.

BBC:     DigitFYI:    Telegraph:    Guardian:     Neowin:  

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