Tech leaders who fail to protect children could face jail

A backbench rebellion has caused a government U-turn around the Online Safety Bill as tech leaders could now face jail time for failing to protect children online. 

Despite opposition to the idea by the government, almost 50 Conservative MPs had threatened to vote for an amendment to introduce two-year sentences to tech bosses who fall short on protecting young people with Labour also expressing support.

The controversial bill will see tech companies required to take ‘proportional measures’ to stop children from seeing harmful material through measures such as age verification, parental controls or simply removing offending content.

In an open letter to parents explaining the impact of the bill, Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: ‘I want to reassure every person reading this letter that the onus for keeping young people safe online will sit squarely on the tech companies’ shoulders.  

‘You or your child will not have to change any settings or apply any filters to shield them from harmful content. Social media companies and their executives in Silicon Valley will have to build these protections into their platforms – and if they fail in their responsibilities, they will face severe legal consequences.’ 

Alongside protecting children, social media sites will also be compelled to allow all users to tailor the content they are seeing with tools that allow the filtering of ‘potentially harmful content.’ 

Harmful content is described as including pornographic content, online abuse or cyberbullying, and content that promotes or glorifies suicide, previously this ‘legal but harmful’ content would have been forced off tech platforms before the measure was dropped by the government ahead of the bill being brought to parliament. 

This latest change in policy will now happen when the government introduces its own amendment as the bill reaches the House of Lords after the Tory rebels spoke with Ms. Donelan, further details on the wording of this amendment are expected in the coming week. 

Before this amendment, tech leaders would have only been criminally liable if they failed to provide information to Ofcom, which will be given greater powers over the internet and social media platforms under the legislation. 

Ofcom will also be able to fine companies who fail to comply with the law to amounts up to 10% of global revenue or £18 million, whichever is greater.

The government has produced a guide to the bill which you can access here.

Photo: UK Parliament (CC BY 3.0)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top