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UK Online Safety Bill clears final parliamentary hurdle, nearing law status



The UK Online Safety Bill, a crucial piece of legislation aimed at enhancing online safety, has achieved a significant milestone. 

On Tuesday, September 19, 2023, it successfully passed its final Parliamentary debate, signaling that it is a step away from becoming law.

It marks a positive achievement towards the development of safe virtual spaces especially for minors. 

Once enacted, it is set to establish the United Kingdom as one of the safest places globally to be online, as new responsibilities are imposed on social media companies, fulfilling a government promise.

It can be recalled that the Online Safety Bill [Bill 285 2021-22] was introduced in the House of Commons on March 17, 2022, and it passed its third reading on September 19, 2023. 

Enhancing user safety online

The five pillars of the bill aim to enhance user safety on the internet, safeguard and promote freedom of speech in the online space, strengthen law enforcement’s capacity to combat illegal online content, empower users to better protect themselves online, and foster a deeper understanding of online harm within society.

Apart from prioritizing child protection by addressing cyberbullying and abuse online, the bill also empowers adults with three layers of protection: removal of illegal content, enforcing platform commitments, and allowing users to filter harmful content. 

Platforms not complying can face hefty fines, up to £18 million or 10% of their global revenue, potentially reaching billions for major platforms, which will be enforced by Ofcom.

Speaking about the progress made, the Technology Secretary of the UK, Michelle Donelan, described the Online Safety Bill as a game-changing piece of legislation. 

She noted that it emphasizes the government’s commitment to making the UK the safest online environment globally. 

“I am deeply thankful to the tireless campaigning and efforts of parliamentarians, survivors of abuse, and charities who have all worked relentlessly to get this bill to the finish line,” she added.

Major social media platforms are proactively preparing for the bill’s enforcement: Snapchat is removing underage users’ accounts, and TikTok is strengthening age verification. 

Ofcom, the regulator for the Online Safety Bill, is ready to swiftly implement the laws. Their consultation process will commence after receiving Royal Assent, focusing primarily on addressing illegal online harms such as child exploitation, fraud, and terroris.

Read also; UK House of Lords approves legislation to target illicit cryptocurrency usage

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