The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is calling for renewed funding for the UK Safer Internet Centre following the publication of new draft legislation aiming to make the internet a safer place.
The draft Online Safety Bill published this week aims to “put an end to harmful practices, while ushering in a new era of accountability and protections for democratic debate”.
The Bill sets out a number of new measures, including:
• New additions to strengthen people’s rights to express themselves freely online, while protecting journalism and democratic political debate in the UK.
• Further provisions to tackle prolific online scams such as romance fraud, which have seen people manipulated into sending money to fake identities on dating apps.
• Social media sites, websites, apps and other services hosting user-generated content or allowing people to talk to others online must remove and limit the spread of illegal and harmful content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and suicide content.
• Ofcom will be given the power to fine companies failing in a new duty of care up to £18 million or ten per cent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher, and have the power to block access to sites.
• A new criminal offence for senior managers has been included as a deferred power. This could be introduced at a later date if tech firms don’t step up their efforts to improve safety.
Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “We have seen an escalation of the dreadful threat to children and the terrifying abuse we know they face online.
“In 2020, our analysts had a record year in terms of the number of images and videos of children they were able to find and remove. Children suffering the worst kinds of rape and sexual violence.
“It’s a heart-breaking milestone and a reminder, if it was ever needed, that the need for a safer internet has never been more urgent.
“The IWF sits at the heart of the international response to tackling child sexual abuse material online, and we are excited that, after years pushing in this area, legislation will finally come forward.
“It is now essential that the Government stands by their promise to replace EU funding for the UK Safer Internet Centre (UK SIC), of which the IWF is part.
“This funding is due to run out this year. Losing the UK SIC’s vital contribution will be disastrous for efforts to make the UK a safer place to be online, and it is children who will suffer.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Government, and with Ofcom, to ensure that children in particular are better protected from harm.”
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Today the UK shows global leadership with our groundbreaking laws to usher in a new age of accountability for tech and bring fairness and accountability to the online world.
“We will protect children on the internet, crack down on racist abuse on social media and through new measures to safeguard our liberties, create a truly democratic digital age.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This new legislation will force tech companies to report online child abuse on their platforms, giving our law enforcement agencies the evidence they need to bring these offenders to justice.
“Ruthless criminals who defraud millions of people and sick individuals who exploit the most vulnerable in our society cannot be allowed to operate unimpeded, and we are unapologetic in going after them.
“It’s time for tech companies to be held to account and to protect the British people from harm. If they fail to do so, they will face penalties.”
The draft Bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of MPs before a final version is formally introduced to Parliament.