DUP Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has given a cautious welcome to the Government’s announcement of their plan for regulation of the internet through an Online Harms Bill.
The DUP MP has been lobbying the Government for greater action to tackle the ‘Wild West’ culture of the internet, and the Government has now indicated that a Bill will come before Parliament in 2021.
Commenting after questioning Rt. Hon. Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on the proposals, Carla Lockhart said:
“Online safety is an issue that affects everyone. Daily use of the internet is now common in most homes, so creating a safer space online for safer use is vital for the protection of young and old.
Many dangers do exist online and are on the rise. For example, internet safety analysts have removed more child sexual abuse material from the internet than ever before. We also have significant problems with the promotion of terrorism, hate speech and incitement to violence.
In addition to this we also have a range of harms such as cyberbullying, trolling, intimidation and misinformation. Some harms are described as ‘legal, but harmful’, but these can destroy lives and sadly we have seen lives lost because of these forms of online harms.
What the Government has announced today will go some way to addressing some of the illegal harms. By appointing Ofcom as the regulator tasked with enforcing this new regime, companies can face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover or £18m if they fail to remove illegal content or address concerns about posts that were legal but still harmful. Apps can also be closed if they fail to tackle illegal content on their platform.
These measures are welcome but behind these headline announcements we must see the detail. We need to see what is defined as legal but harmful content. It is also regrettable that the Government has chosen not, at this time, to hold company directors liable for their platforms and further clarity is required on enforcement of criminal sanctions. A key issue is also how encrypted material will be tackled.
Earlier this year I met with the National Crime Agency who expressed grave concerns around the move to encryption by some major platforms. We need more detail on how the Bill will ensure encryption is not a bar to Ofcom's task.
Whilst this represents progress, many questions remain, and I will be engaging with the Government and working with MPs of like mind to see if this Bill can be bolstered when it comes to the House. The existing proposals need strengthened, and indeed we need to also look at areas that are missing such as tackling online scams.
I will be meeting the Government soon to outline suggested improvements. There should be no half measures in protecting people online, not least our children and those most vulnerable.”