Home office plans to roll out world’s most stringent internet safety laws have won the backing of the cabinet as the government looks to force tech giants to take responsibility for harmful online content, according to reports.
The new Online Safety Bill will give Ofcom powers to require internet firms to actively seek out and remove “illegal content and [legal] content which is harmful to children” in a move that puts more liability on social media firms to police the content disseminated on their platforms.
Home secretary Priti Patel and culture secretary Nadine Dorries proposed the new powers to cabinet colleagues this week as part of a overhaul of internet regulation that will establish a new legal framework for companies like Meta, the owner of Facebook, the Financial Times reported.
The plans have been met with backlash from the tech industry, in what they see as last minute changes to a bill that has been three years in the making.
Coadec, a trade a trade body for tech start-ups, said that the plans could hamper the UK’s ability to attract high tech investment.
The body warned the regulation would make the UK “a global outlier” and a “significantly less attractive place to start, grow and maintain a tech business”.
Trade group TechUK, which counts tech giants Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook among its members, said the changes set “concerning precedents”.
“None of these proposals have been consulted on with industry which is a poor way to draft legislation at this late stage,” said Antony Walker, deputy chief of TechUK.
The bill has reportedly been a source of tension in government, with ministers split on grounds of protecting free speech and protecting the public from potential harms online, the FT reported.
Tech bosses had reportedly been hoping that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak would fight to water down the reforms on the basis it would hamper investment in the UK and dissuade tech companies from setting up shop in Britain.
However, no cabinet members have voiced significant objections, the FT reported, after a cabine consultation on the proposals ended on February 17.
The final bill is expected to be published within weeks.