Online Harms bill: Warning over ‘unacceptable’ delay
The president of the Lords Democracy and Digital Committee said the government bill could be delayed for years.
Lord Puttnam said the online Harms bill may not go into effect until 2023 or 2024, after a government minister has said he cannot commit to bringing it to parliament next year.
“I’m afraid we laughed,” he said.
The government, however, said that the legislation would be introduced “as soon as possible”.
The Harms Bill online project was presented last year amidst a barrage of political action after the story of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who committed suicide after seeing online pictures of self-harm, came to light.
It is seen as a potential tool to make websites responsible if they fail to tackle malicious content online, but it is still in the proposal or in the “White Paper” stage.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has stated that legislation will be ready in this parliamentary session.
But the committee of lords’ report said that DCM minister Caroline Dinenage would not commit to presenting a bill in parliament by the end of 2021, fearing a long delay.
In his tests to the May committee, he had warned that the Covid-19 pandemic had caused delays.
But speaking on the BBC’s Today program, Lord Puttnam said, “It’s over.”
“Here is a bill that the government has called very important – and it is – that they managed to lose in some way.”
The government initially proposed the idea of online regulation in 2017, following it with the White Paper 18 months later, and a full response is now not expected until the end of this year.
Lord Puttnam said that a potential date for 2024 to take effect would be “seven years from conception – in the world of technology that is two lives.”
- Ofcom has big fines for malicious online content
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He was speaking following the launch of his committee’s latest report on the collapse of trust in the digital age.
In a statement, the committee said that democracy itself is threatened by a “pandemic” of online disinformation, which could be an “existential threat” to our lifestyle.
He said the threat of online disinformation has become even more clear in recent months during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the report’s 45 recommendations were that the social network regulator – summoned to be the current broadcast regulator, Ofcom – should consider the platforms responsible for the content they recommend to a large number of people, a once you have crossed a certain threshold.
He also recommended that companies that repeatedly fail to comply are blocked at ISP level and fined up to 4% of their global turnover and that political advertising should be kept to stricter standards.
Ofcom’s new CEO has warned that heavy fines would be part of his plans if appointed as regulator.
DCMS said, “Since the outbreak of the pandemic, specialized government units have been working around the clock to identify and refute false coronavirus information.
“We are also working closely with social media platforms to help them remove incorrect claims about the virus that could endanger people’s health.”