UK to Appoint New Internet Harms Regulator
26 February 2020
Technology & Regulation in the Spotlight
The United Kingdom (“UK“) Digital Secretary and the Home Secretary have announced that the British Government is minded to appoint the existing communications watchdog, Ofcom, to regulate safety on the Internet. The announcement came as a part of the government’s response to the public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper and is part of the UK government’s plan to protect children and other vulnerable people online and provide greater confidence to Internet end users. The plan is intended to create a fair and proportionate regulatory environment, while providing the needed certainty for technological businesses to thrive.
According to the announcement, websites and platforms that enable the sharing of user-generated content will need to ensure that illegal content will be removed quickly to minimize the risk of it appearing online, with particularly robust action on terrorist content and child sexual abuse. Business-to-Business services and businesses that simply have social media presence will not necessarily fall within the scope of the proposed regulation. In addition, companies will be required to explicitly state what content and behavior is acceptable on their sites in accordance with clear and accessible terms and condition and enforce these terms in an effective, consistent and transparent manner.
The Government believes that Ofcom’s experience in overseeing the broadcasting and telecom sectors makes it the most suitable regulatory body to enforce and regulate online harms. In order to do so, Ofcom will receive new and extended authorities, including the power to issue penalties and block access to websites. Apart from being directed by legislation, Ofcom is expected to be independent in making decisions and initiating processes and procedures.
The British Government is expected to publish a full consultation response in the spring of 2020 after further considering the full impact of this change. The response is expected to provide further details as to the potential enforcement powers, which Ofcom may have, and its responsibilities in balancing between harmful content and the freedom of speech.
This step is part of a regulatory trend by which various jurisdictions and regulators are examining the question of regulating online content, specifically within the context of harmful and inappropriate content. Earlier this year, we reported on the Age Appropriate Design Code that was published by the British Information Commissioner’s Office, which sets standards to which service providers must adhere in order to protect children privacy.
Feel free to contact us with any further question or comments regarding the update and subjects detailed above.
Ariel Yosefi, Partner
Head of Technology & eCommerce Regulation
Herzog Fox & Neeman