In this policy brief, Ross Anderson and Sam Gilbert provide an overview of what's in the UK’s Online Safety Bill and the many criticisms that have been levelled at it. They argue it is right to impose a duty of care on major tech platforms, but make five recommendations for more effective ways to tackle online harms - including "offline" interventions.
The UK’s Online Safety Bill is continuing its slow progress through parliamentary procedures. But even as the Government of new Prime Minister Liz Truss has said it will continue with the legislation, some of its contents continue to be contentious. With a further round of debate in the House of Commons and then the House of Lords due to take place in the months ahead, this timely policy brief sets out some of the key issues. While there is broad agreement that some action is needed to address online harms, defining these is not straightforward. Nor is devising effective means of implementation and enforcement of some aspects of the Bill as it stands. With a complex piece of legislation that is extremely broad in its scope, the chances of unintended consequences are high — unless great care is taken at this stage of shaping the legislative detail.
The aim of this Policy Brief by Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and Bennett Institute Research Affiliate Sam Gilbert, is to shed light on some important aspects of the legislation, ahead of the next stages of parliamentary debate. Although focused on the current UK policy decision, the issues raised have far broader implications, as many countries are considering how best governments can ensure the digital environment serves their society in the light of widespread concerns about the consequences of misinformation, polarisation, harms to young people, terrorist finance, surveillance, and other issues that have been part of the public debate. The concerns and the dilemmas raised are almost universal, while the planned UK legislation is among the earliest and most comprehensive.