How are threats to public health and public safety assessed and mitigated?
In the UK, the State is responsible for assessing whether a significant threat to public health or public safety exists. Where these pose relevant threats of harm to individuals we think that OFCOM’s clause 61 risk analysis should include these within scope. The Bill or the process around the Bill should provide for better transmission from the public sector to companies about such risks, in particular when they arise from disinformation. Assessments of threats to public health are undertaken by the 122 Directors of public health and the country-level public health regimes. Assessments of threats to public safety are undertaken by the 45 territorial police forces and aspects of the security services. The current mechanism for transmitting information about such threats is for the government to ask the social media companies if they could be so kind as to consider the issues through bilateral contacts with the individual threat assessors or sometimes the Counter Disinformation Unit in DCMS. We understand that other channels might also exist. The creation of a regulatory regime allows for this system of co-ordination and transmission of the outcome of threat assessments to be put on a formal footing and made properly accountable to parliament. This could also reduce a regulatory burden and improve security by having an aggregated single point of contact for regulated services and the regulator. The government has not addressed this in the draft Bill.
It is not clear if using social media to incite damage to property or, say, a statue (such as during public disturbance) is covered by the regime. Social media was claimed to have a role in several large outbreaks of public disorder over the last ten years; incitement to more general disturbance which could lead to harm to individuals might be caught. The government should clarify its intentions.