Buried behind the Brand-related headlines yesterday, the British House of Lords voted to pass the controversial “Online Safety Bill” into law. All that’s needed now is Royal assent, which Charles will obviously provide.
The bill’s (very catchy) long-form title is…
A Bill to make provision for and in connection with the regulation by OFCOM of certain internet services; for and in connection with communications offences; and for connected purposes.
…and that’s essentially it, it hands the duty of “regulating” certain online content to the UK’s Office of Communications (OfCom).
Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes could barely contain her excitement in a statement to the press:
“Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws.”
As always with these things, the bill’s text is a challenging and rather dull read, deliberately obscure in its language and difficult to navigate.
Of some note is the “information offenses” clause, which empowers OfCom to demand “information” from users, companies and employees, and makes it a crime to withhold it. The nature of this “information” is never specified, nor does it appear to be qualified. Meaning it could be anything, and will most likely be used to get private account information about users from social media platforms.
In one of the more worrying clauses, the Bill outlines what they call “communications offenses”. Section 10 details crimes of transmitting “Harmful, false and threatening communications”.
It should be noted that sending threats is already illegal in the UK, so the only new ground covered here is “harmful” and/or “false” information, and the fact they feel the need to differentiate between those two things should worry you.
After all, the truth can definitely be “harmful”…Especially to a power-hungry elite barely controlling an angry populace through dishonest propaganda.