Tech bosses willingly flouting UK online child safety rules to face criminal liability • TechCrunch


The UK government has confirmed it will expand the criminal liability powers contained in the draft Online Safety Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament to prevent platforms from deliberately breaching child safety laws.

The current version (already amended) of the Online Safety Bill, which will be returned to Parliament today for a report ahead of third reading, includes criminal liability for operators who fail to comply with their duty to report to Ofcom’s regulator. , with the information it requests from them.

However, the government has now come under pressure from some of its own backbenchers – as well as calls from online child welfare campaigners – to include broad criminal liability provisions making serious breaches of child welfare obligations criminally liable.

This means Ofcom will – on paper at least – get more powers to hand out prison terms to social media bosses who deliberately break child safety laws.

The Telegraph reported news of the government coup late yesterday that Digital Affairs Secretary Michelle Donnellan had welcomed changes to a bill that would make senior managers at tech firms criminally liable for persistent breaches. Care of children.

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed the development, telling TechCrunch that DCMS Minister Paul Scully will outline the details in his speech to Parliament this afternoon. The development follows meetings between Donnellan and backbench Conservative MPs in recent weeks, who have been pushing for more wide-ranging reforms to extend criminal liability to senior executives.

A DCMS spokesperson said backbench MPs agreed to withdraw their amendment to allow the government to introduce the amendment to expand criminal liability provisions.

The opposition Labor Party has signaled support for backbench amendments, meaning the government could have faced a humiliating defeat on the bill – so it is backtracking to avoid violence.

Backbench conservative MPs have argued the law needs more teeth if it is to regulate powerful tech giants and protect children from harmful content. And asking why executives in the technology sector should get a free pass.

In other changes late last year, the government revised the bill to remove a clause dealing with legal but harmful content – over concerns the law could negatively impact freedom of expression.

But that move has been condemned by child welfare campaigners and appears to have sparked backbench opposition to criminal accountability.

No word on the government’s reform has yet been published, but a DCMS spokesman said the expanded criminal liability in the law would only cover repeated breaches of child welfare obligations – describing the target as “fraudulent” and “willfully negligent”. Ofcom investigations and enforcement of child welfare regulations.

So a sort of ‘Elon Musk liability clause’, if you will.

The reform proposed by the backers would have gone beyond that – by extending criminal liability Any Violation of child welfare obligations. So the government seems to have found a compromise by narrowing liability to only intentional violations. And a DCMS spokesman suggested the amendment was “much more targeted and proportionate to the concerns” than that proposed by rebel MPs.

Liability starts with senior management who “repeatedly and knowingly and willfully ignore Ofcom’s enforcement notices in relation to their security technology practices,” a DCMS spokesman told us: “This will be consistent with other senior manager liability provisions. They are currently legislated elsewhere… The liability of a senior manager if they do not provide information when Ofcom asks for it was currently in the bill.

“We are confident it will not affect the UK’s attractiveness as an investment destination. Because it doesn’t penalize responsible and responsive CTOs who are focused on making sure their platforms are secure. This is to make their sites safer for children, which Ofcom deliberately and voluntarily opposes, a spokesman said.

“So this will give tech bosses more certainty about when to use it and… as always, with the penalties in the bill – Ofcom’s powers to punish them, they have the power to deny access to sites. [that break the law]These are a set of powers that Ofcom has and it is clear that it will only use them in extreme circumstances. In extreme cases where these powers need to be used, however, he has many options to use before then.

After the deadline for introducing amendments in the House of Commons has passed, a government amendment will be tabled when it crosses to the House of Lords next month – so full details remain to be seen.

We asked DCMS whether the criminal liability provision for senior management only applied to large platforms (so-called “category 1” services) – or to all services in scope (including tens of thousands of companies and/or entities). (providing consumer-to-consumer services) face this risk – but a spokesperson could not confirm how widely the change would be implemented at this time.

While child welfare campaigners may welcome the government’s move to increase criminal liability for tech giants, digital rights groups may be more wary of the threat to freedom of expression, with groups such as ORG warning about the impact of the laws. Websites that push for mandatory age-gating affect users’ ability to access online content and people’s privacy.



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