Matt Warman – 2020 Statement on Online Harms Legislation

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Warman, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on 13 February 2020.

I thank my hon. Friend for their question on this important issue.

The Government are taking significant action to tackle the issue of online harm and make this country the safest place in the world to go online. There is widespread consensus that online platforms must do more to make sure that their services are safe for all users, particularly children, while also promoting freedom of expression online. Strikingly, far fewer parents now believe that the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks, with the proportion falling from 65% of parents in 2015 to 55% last year. That is a worrying trend that we must address. We can keep the benefits of the digital economy only if we can improve trust and confidence in technology and tackle what erodes it.

The “Online Harms” White Paper proposed a statutory duty of care, enforced by an independent regulator. Since its publication, we have consulted on our proposals and announced our intention to legislate in the Queen’s Speech. The evidence given during the consultation will help us to get the balance right between an open and vibrant internet and one where users are protected from harm.

Yesterday, as set out in a written ministerial statement, the Government published our initial consultation response. The response set out our proposed direction of travel following the consultation, and we will publish a full response in the spring, before bringing forward legislation in this Session. I wish to bring to the attention of the House four specific points raised during the consultation.

First, we must ensure that in aiming to make the internet safer we do not inadvertently stifle legitimate debate. We will place safeguards in legislation, giving companies and the regulator the responsibility to protect users’ rights, including freedom of expression, online. We will introduce greater transparency about content removals so that users can appeal if their content is taken down.

Secondly, we know that greater protections are needed to keep young people safe online. The new regulatory framework will require companies to take steps to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate content and protect them from other harms.

Thirdly, some consultation responses raised concerns that the regulation would place undue burdens on sites where opportunities for harm to occur are limited. Our legislation will be proportionate and risk-based, affecting only those companies in respect of which there is a risk of harm. The duty of care will apply only to businesses facilitating the sharing of user-generated content, for example, through comments or video sharing, and only around 5% of UK businesses provide these functions.

Finally, the regulator will ensure that in-scope companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to protect users from harm, especially children and the ​most vulnerable. We are minded to appoint Ofcom to regulate online harms, building on its experience and expertise to make further progress on this important issue. We also yesterday appointed Ofcom to regulate video-sharing platforms under the audiovisual media services directive, which aims to reduce harmful content on these sites. That will provide quicker protection for some harms and activities and will act as a stepping stone to the full online harms regulatory framework.

We will publish our full consultation response in the spring, setting out further details of our plans ahead of legislation and, alongside this, the Home Office will publish voluntary interim codes of practice to set out what companies should do to prevent terrorist use of the internet, or child sex exploitation and abuse on their platforms.

We are confident that this publication and the other plans that we are driving forward will help to make Britain the safest place to be online and the best digital economy in the world. No other country in the world is working faster to foster tackling this vital issue.