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UK Online Safety Act Becomes Law Amid Controversy

Photo: Adobe Stock / cristianstorto

The UK’s Online Safety Bill has received Royal Assent and is now officially the Online Safety Act.

Why it’s important: The Online Safety Act marks a pivotal shift in how the UK regulates digital platforms, emphasizing child protection and potentially influencing global internet safety standards. Its controversial elements highlight the tension between online safety and preserving encryption and user privacy.

Legislation overview: This law mandates tech companies to incorporate new standards for the design, operation, and moderation of their platforms. The legislation targets various online concerns, including access to online pornography by minors, cyber trolls, scam advertisements, nonconsensual intimate deepfakes, and the propagation of child abuse content and terrorist material.

Implementation phases: Though enacted, companies are not expected to comply instantly. The UK’s telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, will introduce codes of practice in three stages. The first phase, focusing on illegal content such as child abuse and terrorist material, will see a consultation due on November 9th. Subsequent phases will address child safety, transparency reports, scam ads prevention, and user content control tools. Ofcom intends to identify “categorised services,” or major/high-risk platforms needing to meet obligations, by the end of the coming year.

Potential penalties: Non-compliance may result in severe penalties, with companies risking fines up to £18 million ($22 million) or 10% of their annual global revenue. Company leaders might even face imprisonment.

Controversial stances: UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, emphasized the Act’s protective measures for children, particularly against child abuse on social media platforms. However, the legislation has faced opposition.

Encrypted messaging services, like WhatsApp and Signal, argue that demands to identify child abuse content could compromise their end-to-end encryption. They hint at potentially exiting the UK market rather than complying. Additionally, the Wikimedia Foundation expressed concerns about potential issues for platforms like Wikipedia that gather minimal user data.

Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, refuted claims of the Act being censorial, emphasizing harm root cause addressing. Child safety proponents, including Peter Wanless from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, hailed the act as a significant step towards children’s online safety.

By CircleID Reporter

CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

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