The House of Lords is scheduled to debate the Online Safety Bill at second reading on 1 February 2023

The bill would establish a regulatory framework for certain online services. These include user-to-user services, such as Facebook, and search services, such as Google. The government’s aim in introducing the bill is “to make Britain the best place in the world to set up and run a digital business, while simultaneously ensuring that Britain is the safest place in the world to be online”.

The bill would place duties of care on both regulated user-to-user service providers and regulated search service providers. The regulated service providers would have duties relating to, among other things:

  • illegal content
  • protecting children
  • user empowerment
  • content of democratic importance, news publisher content and journalistic content
  • freedom of expression and privacy
  • fraudulent advertising

The bill would establish Ofcom as the regulator. It would give Ofcom the power to levy fines against non-compliant providers, and would make senior managers liable to imprisonment for not complying with a direction to provide Ofcom with information.

Following changes in government leadership, several clauses were recommitted to a House of Commons public bill committee in late 2022. There, among other changes, clauses that would have imposed adult safety duties of care on regulated providers were removed. The Labour Party opposed this change.

The government has said it will bring forward several amendments to the bill in the House of Lords including new offences relating to intimate images and promoting self-harm, criminal sanctions for senior managers of non-compliant providers and bringing existing offences relating to the encouragement of small boat crossings into scope.

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