LONDON: Britain’s Home Office announced earlier this week that it was pushing for legal measures that would force big tech companies to monitor and block “legal but harmful” content on their platforms.
The suggested measures will create new responsibilities for internet platforms such as Facebook and Google, and could create a conflict with European data protection rules and deter new investment from multinational technology companies in Britain.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for changes to the upcoming Online Safety Bill, sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on fraud, terrorism and other illegal activity on digital platforms.
However, increasing the liability of tech companies for content deemed harmful but not illegal would be a radical departure for the UK from the US and European models of internet regulation.
If the Home Office’s proposals are added to the bill, UK communications regulator Ofcom would be given the power to demand a higher level of active monitoring and blocking from tech companies, rather than simply relying on their users to report abusive or offensive material.
“The Home Secretary has been clear that the internet cannot be a safe haven for despicable criminals who exploit and abuse people online. We expect companies to remove and limit the spread of content illegal on their platforms. Where they don’t, it’s right that they be held accountable,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
Earlier this month, new measures were added to the Online Safety Bill, including sending “genuinely threatening” or “knowingly false” messages which will be considered a criminal offence.
If passed, the government’s online safety bill could see tech companies fined 10% of their global turnover if they fail to remove harmful content.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged online platforms to start making the changes now before the bill comes into force, saying: ‘They can start doing what they need to do to remove these harmful algorithms and remove much of the damage they cause, especially to young people and to society as a whole.
The government has confirmed that offenses that have been added to the list of priority offences, which are to be removed by platforms as part of the amendments, include: revenge pornography, hate crimes, fraud, selling drugs or illegal weapons, promoting or facilitating suicide, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.