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If executives at companies like Meta, Google, Twitter, and TikTok don’t work with Ofcom, which is in charge of regulating the internet in the U.K., they could go to jail sooner than expected. On Wednesday, the U.K. government said that executives could go to jail or be prosecuted within two months of the new Online Safety Bill becoming law, instead of two years as was originally written.
On Thursday, the Online Safety Bill will be discussed in Parliament. This bill could become law by the end of the year.
It wants social media sites, search engines, and other places where people can share their own content to protect children, stop illegal activity, and follow their own rules.
On Wednesday, the government said that several new crimes had been added to the bill. Now, senior managers at tech companies can be charged with crimes if they destroy evidence, don’t show up for interviews with Ofcom, give false information, or try to stop the watchdog from entering their offices.
Ben Packer, a partner at the law firm Linklaters, said that it will be important to pay attention to the details.
“For the final law to work, these crimes will have to be limited to information that the person could reasonably be expected to give, and there will have to be defenses, like if the senior manager honestly thought that what they told Ofcom was true,” he said in a statement that was shared with CNBC.
“A big problem for Ofcom will be figuring out how to use these powers since many of the platforms covered by the rules won’t have a physical presence or staff in the UK,” said Packer.
People have said that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok are all bad because they let people share harmful content on their sites. They say they are doing everything they can to get rid of it, but that doesn’t make many lawmakers happy.
The U.K.’s Digital Minister, Nadine Dorries, said that tech companies haven’t been held responsible when harm, abuse, and illegal activity have been common on their platforms. “Instead, they were told to give themselves grades.”
Dorries said that the internet needs safety measures like seat belts in a car.
“Given all the risks online, it makes sense to make sure that the digital age has the same basic protections,” Dorries said.
If companies don’t follow the rules, Ofcom will be able to fine them up to 10% of their annual global turnover. In addition to being able to take tech executives to court, this is a new power. To put that in perspective, Meta could be fined up to $10 billion based on how much money it makes in 2021.
One of the new ideas is
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport agreed to take into account the 66 suggestions made by a joint committee for the Online Safety Bill last year. Some people said that online platforms should be held responsible for things like promoting self-harm, extreme pornography, and cyber flashing.
Damian Collins, who is in charge of the joint committee working on the draft online safety bill,
says that the internet is a bit like the “Wild West.” He said that the recommendations being accepted was a “huge moment” for the safety of people all over the world who use the internet.
Collins said in a statement, “In December, the joint committee on the Online Safety Bill gave a clear list of recommendations on how to make the bill stronger while still protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
This means that we will really make the UK the safest place in the world to go online.
The bill must now go through a formal process that all bills must go through before they can become laws. That means giving U.K. lawmakers a chance to talk about different parts of the law.
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