UK Government Reveals Details of Upcoming Damage Rules Online

Technology platforms that host user-generated content or allow people to communicate will need to proactively remove and limit the spread of illegal or harmful content, or could be fined up to 10% of billing under the so UK’s long-awaited online damage legislation.

On December 15, 2020, the UK government published its full response to the Damage Online White Paper, noting that the Online Damage Bill will establish a legal duty of care for online companies with their users, who will be legally obliged to identify, eliminate and limit the dissemination of illegal content, such as child sexual abuse, terrorism and material suicide.

Businesses will also have a much greater responsibility to protect children from harmful content or activities such as bullying, bullying, and pornography. The rules will be enforced by Ofcom, which the bill officially confirmed as the online damage regulator.

Ofcom will have the power to fine companies that fail to fulfill their duty of care of up to £ 18 million, or 10% of annual global turnover, whichever is greater, and will also have the power to block access to non-conforming services in the UK. .

The government has also suggested that Ofcom will be empowered through secondary legislation to impose criminal sanctions against individual executives or senior managers of technology companies, for example, if they do not respond fully, accurately and in a timely manner to requests for information from the regulator. .

The legislation will apply to any company in the world serving UK users, with the rules staggered in such a way that the most popular sites and services (those with large audiences) will have to go the extra mile by setting and enforcing clear terms and conditions that explicitly state how content that is legal but could still cause significant physical or psychological harm will be handled.

This will include misinformation and misinformation on a variety of topics, such as coronavirus vaccines, marking the first time online misinformation has come under the mandate of a government regulator.

A small group of companies with the largest online presence and high-risk features, likely to include Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, will be in Category 1, while Category 2 services include platforms that host dating services or pornography and private messaging. Applications.

Less than 3% of UK businesses will fall within the scope of the legislation and the vast majority of companies that do will be Category 2 services, the UK government has stated.

“I’m blatantly pro-tech, but that can’t mean free-for-all technology,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “Today Britain is setting the global standard for online security with the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation. We are entering a new era of technology responsibility to protect children and vulnerable users, to restore trust in this industry and to enshrine safeguards for freedom of expression in law.

“We will not allow child sexual abuse, terrorist material and other harmful content to become infected on online platforms. Tech companies must put public safety first or face the consequences »

Priti Patel, Secretary of the Interior

“This new provided framework will ensure that we do not impose unnecessary burdens on small businesses, but will give large digital companies strong rules of the way forward so that we can harness the brilliance of modern technology to improve our lives.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel added: “We will not allow child sexual abuse, terrorist material and other harmful content to become infected on online platforms. Tech companies must put public safety first or face the consequences.

The legislation will also include safeguards for freedom of expression and pluralism online, with specific measures to ensure that journalistic content on news publishers’ websites is protected, even when shared on various social media platforms. Reader comment sections on news publisher sites will also be exempt.

The government has said that the legislation will make clear what specific harmful content and activity will be covered, as well as establish how the rules will apply to communication channels and services where users expect a higher degree of privacy, for example in services. instant messaging online. and closed groups of social networks.

“We are very excited to take on this new role, which will build on our experience as a media regulator. Being online brings huge benefits, but four out of five people are concerned, ”said Ofcom CEO Melanie Dawes.

“That shows the need for sensible and balanced rules that protect users from serious harm, but it also recognizes the great benefits of the Internet, including freedom of expression. We are preparing for the task by acquiring new technology and data skills, and we will work with Parliament as it finalizes the plans. ‘

the Damage Online White Paper was published by the Department of Culture, Media, Digital Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry of the Interior in April 2019, and presented the world’s first framework designed to hold Internet companies accountable for the safety of their users.

Both Lords and MPs have previously expressed frustration over delays in the online damages bill, as well as the lack of a full government response to the whitepaper.

In February 2020, the government submitted its initial response to the document, presenting Ofcom as a potential regulator. However, in the government’s own press release announcing the response, it said that the full version would “be published in the spring.”

The government now claims that it plans to introduce the law in early 2021 in an online security bill, which it further claimed will set a global standard for proportionate but effective regulation.

“Today’s announcement is a welcome step forward, pursuing a differentiated approach to legal and illegal damages and with appropriate waivers for ‘lower risk’ services such as product reviews or email,” said Antony Walker, deputy executive director of the agency. TechUK commercial.

“However, significant clarity is needed on the key elements of how the proposed regimen will work in practice, including the criteria used for the categorized approach and ‘high risk services’. While the exemptions outlined are encouraging, there are still far too many companies included in the scope, with more than 175,000 ‘Category 2’ companies needing to know their exact responsibilities and where these exemptions apply.

“The prospect of severe penalties, including senior management liability and fines of 10% of global turnover, will be particularly worrisome for this broad cohort of companies and risks discouraging start-ups and new investments at a time when which we should encourage and capitalize on reputations to drive growth and investment.

On November 27, 2020, the government revealed plans to establish a dedicated Digital Markets Unit (DMU), which it said would work closely with regulators, including Ofcom and the Office of the Information Commissioner, to introduce and enforce a new code that regulates the behavior of platforms that currently dominate the market.

“Digital platforms like Google and Facebook make a significant contribution to our economy and play an important role in our daily lives, whether it is helping us stay in touch with our loved ones, share creative content or access the latest news.” said business secretary Alok Sharma at the time. “But the dominance of a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices, and fewer choice and control for consumers.”

The European Union (EU) is also poised to reveal new rules in its Digital Markets and Digital Services Laws, which are expected to focus on competition and holding platforms accountable for the content they host, respectively.

The European Commission (EC) has particularly objected to large technology companies using the data they collect from one service to ‘improve or develop’ new services in a different line of business, as this significantly hampers the ability of smaller companies to compete.

In a joint opinion piece for the Irish times, published on December 6, Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton wrote that “the commercial and political interests of a handful of companies should not dictate our future”, adding that “the powers of rapid preventive intervention and the possibility of imposing sanctions … They will be able to prevent harmful behaviors even before they occur ”.

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