threats by jail tech bosses for ‘harmful content’ will endanger UK tech sector and civil liberties, Activists have warned.
The penalty was added to the UK Government’s Online Safety Act. Internet platform executives could be jailed for failing to protect children from online harm, new law changes say. The revisions also mandate the removal of Videos presenting illegal immigration “in a positive light”.
The changes follow pressure from politicians in the ruling Conservative Party. Legislators had proposed introducing criminal liability for any breach of child safeguarding obligations, but the government has limited this to intentional breaches.
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In a statement, Michelle Donelan, the UK’s culture and digital secretary, said only senior managers do this “Consent or tolerated”, ignoring enforcement orders risked imprisonment.
“While this change does not affect those who have acted in good faith to act proportionately, it gives the law extra teeth to make changes and ensure people are held accountable when they fail to adequately protect children,” she said .
Child protection groups welcomed the move to hold executives criminally liable, but critics have raised a number of concerns.
A patchwork of complaints
The diversity of dissent is striking.
Wikimedia warned that the penalties will not only affect big tech companies, but also volunteer-led moderation of public interest content and websites. The nonprofit organization also points out that mandatory age verification may result in additional data collection, putting users’ privacy at risk.
Libertarians have added concerns about the economic impact. They claim jail threats and heavy fines will stifle innovation and discourage start-ups from operating in the UK.
“The natural response will be to block users.
Matthew Lesh, head of public policy at the IEA, a free market think tank, said the proposals are ultimately a boon for big tech. He argues that the rules will raise greater barriers to entry for their smaller competitors.
“There is also a significant risk that UK users will simply lose access to many parts of the internet,” Lesh told TNW. “The natural reaction of many platform operators, particularly outside the UK with a limited UK audience, will be to block UK users. This was the response of thousands of US websites to the GDPR.”
Meanwhile, advocates of free speech will urge fear platforms to aggressively block content and deploy automated surveillance systems. This could result in censorship of legitimate posts, restricted access to online services, and limited freedom of expression.
“That can be very subjective.
Further concerns have arisen over the ambiguities of the bill. Legal experts fear that the rules can be interpreted differently.
“Some of the provisions of the bill are based on the risk of ‘harm’ as defined in the bill: physical or psychological harm,” Graham Smith, an IT attorney at Bird & Bird, told TNW. “The government has said that mental harm shouldn’t be limited to a medically recognized condition, so that could potentially be quite subjective.”
The possibility of exploiting the rules has raised significant concerns. Law professors have accused the government of using child safety as a pretext for “censorship and control”.
technology ethicist to warn The bill could politicize “online harm” – a theory exacerbated by the migration proposal.
The politics of “damage”
The new proposals would legally mandate job cuts Show people crossing the English Channel in “a positive light”.
The government said this will help fight gang-sponsored illegal immigration. But refugee agencies warn against endangering the rights of vulnerable migrants – and setting a dangerous precedent for activists.
The ORG, a digital rights group, notes that censorship of small boat crossings would extend to search engines.
“Sites could be demoted from lists if they contain content deemed illegal,” the organization said in a tweet. “This could have serious repercussions for groups advocating for refugee and migrant rights.”
Alisha Lewis, local councilor for the Liberal Democrats Party, described the proposal as a “fascinating combination of poor political competence and absurdly directed, nasty anti-refugee mood”.
Censorship of small boat crossing images also extends to search engines. Websites may be demoted from lists if they contain content deemed illegal. This could have serious implications for groups advocating for the rights of refugees and migrants. #OnlineSafetyBill https://t.co/NGNjPZQygL
— Open Rights Group (@OpenRightsGroup) January 20, 2023
Undoubtedly, online safety for children is an urgent concern. But the wide reach, the punitive measures and the subjectivity of the proposals risk creating more problems than thatj solves. It’s been almost four years since the government’s first white paper was published, but the online safety law is still in disarray.