David Davis: Online Safety Bill ‘dangerous and authoritarian’

Former Cabinet Minister David Davis has branded the Government’s Online Safety Bill “dangerous” and “authoritarian”.

Writing in The Sunday Express, the former Brexit Secretary said that, as it stands, the Bill “could be the biggest accidental curtailment of free speech in modern history”.

He remarked that he was particularly worried about censorship of legal content with limited scrutiny.


The Bill requires tech firms to address content which the Government has explicitly labelled ‘legal but harmful’.

the biggest accidental curtailment of free speech in modern history

They could be fined up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover if they fail to do so, and senior executives could face jail time if they do not comply with investigations carried out by the designated regulator, Ofcom.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries claimed the legislation would make the UK “the safest place to go online”, but Davis contested her attempt to frame the Bill as a defence of free speech.

He said: “It is precisely the opposite. It will make Silicon Valley even more likely to censor people – afraid, as bosses will be, of being fined.”

It will make Silicon Valley even more likely to censor people

Amendments needed

He was particularly concerned that the definition of what constitutes ‘legal but harmful’ will be covered by secondary rather than primary legislation, giving the Secretary of State and her successors the power to change it with little accountability.

“This raises the prospect of the law shifting – further eroding free speech – without proper parliamentary scrutiny. This is unacceptable. If we really think something needs to be banned online we must debate it in parliament as a whole.”

He concluded: “The Bill must be heavily amended. In its current form it represents a devastating blow on basic free speech rights”, adding that his fellow party members “should have nothing to do with it”.

‘Silicon Valley wokery’

Last week, The Christian Institute’s Head of Research Dave Greatorex said that, despite some improvements, there are significant concerns with the Bill.

“We welcome the properly targeted parts of this Bill, like criminalising cyberflashing and preventing children accessing pornography. But we do not yet know what the Government considers ‘legal but harmful’. We’ve had ten Culture Secretaries since 2010, so what constitutes ‘legal but harmful’ could change from year to year.

“And social media companies will inevitably go far beyond what the law sets out.

“Ineffectual free speech duties mean there is a significant risk that – in the eyes of ‘Big Tech’ – conservative, traditional views on marriage, sexuality and gender are seen as valid targets for censorship. We do not want mainstream Christian views to be at the mercy of Silicon Valley wokery.”

Also see:

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Revamped Online Safety Bill still a serious threat

Online Safety Bill may license ‘woke prejudice’

Online Safety Bill risks censorship of Christian teaching

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