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Online Harms White Paper - Initial Consultation Response

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On Wednesday the Government published its response to last year’s Online Harms White Paper. An awful lot has happened since the White Paper was published: a General Election; changes of personnel – of Prime Minister and in the leadership of the two sponsoring Departments; cancellation of Pt 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017; the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, under which the UK will be required to implement the revised Audio Visual Services Directive 2018, publication of the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code… to name but a few!!

But this is just an initial response. The full response is promised this Spring – a year after the White Paper was issued. Some points of interest:

  • The Government has clearly taken note of freedom of expression concerns voiced by the freedom of speech and press lobbies. As a result a firm distinction will now be drawn between the treatment and regulatory expectations around legal content and illegal content.  There will be no requirement to compel the removal of specific pieces of legal content. This would instead be addressed in companies’ rules of operation and user terms.
  • Businesses in scope are limited to those providing functionality on their websites which facilitate the sharing of user generated content or user interactions through comments, forums or video sharing
  • Ofcom is confirmed as bookies’ favourite to regulate this new area, the Government now being minded to make said designation.
  • Companies in scope will be expected to use a range of tools to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate content.  This is expressed to meet the requirements of the now moribund provisions of the DEA 2017 which had mandated age verification for adult websites.

In parallel with the imminent full Consultation response (which will elaborate on all of the above, and on the key question of sanctions and enforcement), the Government is developing the necessary legislation “at pace” and will bring it forward once Parliamentary time permits. Hard to predict when that will occur in view of the legislative logjam resulting from years of Brexit paralysis…

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.