New DCMS Secretary of State Urged to Protect Children on Social Media with Draft Bill
December 18, 2019
- Draft Bill will enable government to deliver on ambitious manifesto commitment to ‘legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online’
- NSPCC, 5Rights Foundation, the Institute of Strategic Dialogue and Royal Society of Public Health back new Online Harm Reduction Bill drafted by Carnegie UK Trust
- Ofcom proposed as regulator of social media companies
The returning Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, will begin her new tenure today by reviewing a draft Bill designed to impose a statutory duty of care on social media companies to protect children from harm.
The Bill – which is endorsed by organisations including the NSPCC, 5Rights Foundation, the Institute of Strategic Dialogue and the Royal Society of Public Health – was written by Carnegie UK Trust to end months of delay since the publication of a government Online Harms White Paper.
William Perrin, Trustee at Carnegie UK Trust, said: “The Prime Minister talked of ending stagnation in Parliament on Brexit, but vital domestic policies have stagnated too. Work on legislation to protect children, and the elderly online has barely progressed.”
“This draft Bill aims to give Nicky Morgan fresh impetus as she returns to this important task, meeting an election manifesto commitment to ‘legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online’. Under our draft Bill companies who run online services would need to demonstrate that their systems are safe, well run and respect human rights. We have set out in detail how parliament could legislate for a duty of care enforced by a regulator.”
The draft Bill shows that a duty of care could be introduced quickly and effectively. It puts a duty on relevant companies and gives regulatory powers to enforce that to Ofcom. Ofcom would take responsibility for drawing up Codes of Practice for social media companies to reduce the risk of harms online and for the monitoring and enforcement of the regime.
Carnegie UK Trust’s draft Bill creates a framework for international best practice for social media companies. They set out how the UK has the building blocks for a so-called “British Model” for online regulation which includes:
- Protecting children with a statutory duty of care for online harm reduction
- Enhancing and promoting free speech and democratic engagement
- Attacking scams and fraudsters who prey on the elderly
- Levelling up for free trade – getting ahead of the pack
- Helping British start-ups with a ruthless focus on anti-competitive behaviour
- Championing British rule of law online
William Perrin said: “The early introduction of legislation is an important component in setting the pace internationally – as the UK has done in the past in so many areas of tech and digital policy. As we prepare to exit the European Union, we are in a strong position to carve out a uniquely British model of regulation. The duty of care is an integral part of this approach to increase our competitiveness, support our national values and lead the world online in enhancing free speech, protecting children and the elderly and improving national security.”
The open letter to the Secretary of State for DCMS is here.
The draft Online Harm Reduction Bill and explanatory notes are available here.
Notes to editors
- Professor Lorna Woods (University of Essex), William Perrin (Carnegie UK Trust Trustee) and Maeve Walsh (Carnegie UK Trust Associate) have published extensive material on the development of a statutory duty of care, which can be viewed here: https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/harm-reduction-in-social-media/
- Their proposals have influenced a number of Select Committees and other expert bodies. For example: the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the Lords Communications Committee, the APPG on Social Media and Young People and the Labour Party have all recommended a duty of care, along with the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner and the UK Chief Medical Officers. A report to the French Ministry of Digital Affairs referenced a “duty of care” as the proposed basis for social media regulation and the European Commission are actively considering our work as they scope their new digital policy programme. The proposal was adopted in the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper. The Government’s response to the Online Harms White Paper was expected at the end of the 2019 but has been delayed by the suspension of Parliament and the General Election.
- The draft Online Harm Reduction Bill creates a high-level framework to regulate systems operating online that may give rise to harms. The framework empowers an independent regulator, OFCOM, to act at arms’ length from the executive and Parliament. This short draft Bill (60 clauses), amends the Communications Act 2003 (CA03), the very large Act that abolished seven regulators and created OFCOM. Adding to the CA03 regime garners the benefit of over 15 years of practice and experience. This draft Online Harm Reduction Bill requires the regulator to make codes of practice that are essential for the operation of a statutory duty of care regime. An indicative list of such codes is provided. The codes should be written by the independent regulator, not by government.
- CUKT is publishing this Bill to continue to keep the debate and discussion going on the most effective way to regulate to reduce harms online. The authors will continue to engage with Parliamentarians and Select Committee members on a cross-party basis as well as international organisations and other stakeholders with an interest in this area.
- The Conservative manifesto commits to the following: ‘We will legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online – protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online – but at the same time defending freedom of expression and in particular recognising and defending the invaluable role of a free press.” (p10); and ‘We will ensure that no one is put off from engaging in politics or standing in an election by threats, harassment or abuse, whether in person or online. We will champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas.’ (p48)
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