The Government’s Online Safety Bill’s scope is “breath-taking”, raising “significant issues for freedom of expression”, a respected think tank has found.
‘An Unsafe Bill’, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), outlines the Bill’s impact on free speech, privacy and innovation.
The report found “a lack of evidence to justify the legislation, with respect to both the alleged prevalence of what the Bill treats as ‘harm’ and the link between the proposed measures and the desired objectives”.
The Bill gives strong incentives for social media companies to restrict content which is ‘legal but harmful’ to adults and empowers Government ministers to decide what this covers.
The IEA warns this will give the Secretary of State for Culture and watchdog Ofcom “unprecedented powers to define and limit speech, with limited parliamentary or judicial oversight”.
unprecedented powers to define and limit speech
The report highlights that because tech companies could be fined up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover if they fail to uphold their new duties, platforms may use “automated tools in a precautionary and censorious manner”.
The briefing also warns that the Bill’s free speech protections “appear wholly inadequate”, with the risk that those “claiming distress will request the removal of speech with which they disagree”.
Writing in The Times, its co-author Matthew Lesh called the Bill “a recipe for automated over-removal of speech on an industrial scale, to ensure compliance and placate the most easily offended”.
He commented: “Is the government trying to out-compete Russia and China in online censorship?”
Earlier this month, former Brexit Minister Lord Frost urged Boris Johnson to overhaul the Online Safety Bill as one of his top priorities.
Is the government trying to out-compete Russia and China in online censorship?
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Lord Frost outlined the Bill as one of three key issues which “must be dealt with now”.
He called on the Prime Minister to “bring forward only the uncontroversial elements, and don’t kill free speech and our tech industry with the rest”.