The government’s flagship online safety bill – designed to protect children from harm – faces being scrapped due to a lack of Commons time and more Tory infighting.
Online safety campaigners fear the next prime minister could scrap the bill completely amid reports it will be delayed for at least three months as Parliament rises for the summer recess next Thursday (July 21).
The legislation will put tight restrictions on social media companies who could face fines of up to 10% of their worldwide turnover for failing to protect users from “harmful content.”
The i reports the bill could “be dropped completely” with PM-prospect Kemi Badenoch saying she would scrap it in its present form, if she wins the Conservative leadership contest, because of its threats to free speech.
Online Safety Bill lost out to NI protocol
Labour is being blamed by Downing Street for the delay in passing the bill, for trying to introduce a confidence vote on Boris Johnson’s government, which was denied. “Parliamentary time got cut because of Labour’s pointless motion,” a Whitehall source told i.
“It was either the Northern Ireland protocol bill or the second day of our report stage that got delayed to autumn to allow Labour to have time to play politics. The Online Safety Bill lost out.”
On Monday, Johnson will introduce a motion for a confidence vote in his government. Other “insiders” have rejected the blaming Labour for the fate of the bill, pointing instead to disquiet in the Conservative party over censorship and perceived attacks on free speech.
For them the delay is welcomed by critics of the online safety bill – especially for what the Guardian calls the “free-speech wing of the Conservative party”.
They believe the bill is “fundamentally misdesigned” and leading backbencher David Davis said everyone wants safety from online dangers, “but the bill’s well-intentioned attempts to address these very real risks threatens being the biggest accidental curtailment of free speech in modern history.”
Under the terms of the bill, social media companies will be defining “legal but harmful” which Davis said, will “inevitably err on the side of censorship”.
Johnson’s government pledged to make the UK the safest place to go online in the world in the Conservative party’s 2019 general election manifesto.
Online safety campaigners are fearful the bill may be dropped entirely by the next Conservative party leader.
The NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy, Andy Burrows believes the bill is “a crucial piece of legislation” to protect children.
Burrows said harm and abuse “is taking place on an industrial scale on social media”, adding: “Any delay will mean families continue to pay the price for the failure and inaction of tech firms who have allowed harm to fester rather than get their house in order.
“Online regulation is therefore vital to force their hand and delivering this legislation should be a cornerstone of any Government’s duty to keep the most vulnerable in our society safe.”