Warning new internet laws give ministers ‘unprecedented’ powers

New internet legislation will give ministers “unprecedented” censorship powers, with significant impact on free speech, new research warns.

The Government faces calls to “slimming down” its online safety accountwhich is currently finding its way through parliamentout of concern about its impact on people’s freedoms and privacy, as well as innovation.

The legislation will legally require platforms to protect users from harmful content for the first time, with penalties for violating the new rules, including fines that could run into the billions of pounds for larger companies.



While the government undoubtedly has good intentions, the bill in its current form could become one of the most significant accidental violations of free speech in modern times.

David Davis

culture secretary Nadine Dorries has said it will make the UK “the safest place in the world for our children to go online”.

But former ministers have argued that the bill “gives in to the minds of the perpetually offended”, and could end up “one of the most significant accidental violations of free speech in modern times”.

A new briefing paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) think-tank warns that by establishing security duties, the bill puts the bill at risk on digital platforms that use automated tools in a “prudent and censorship” manner against content that is “considered only reasonably. as being illegal”.

It says the legislation will give the Secretary of State and Ofcom “unprecedented powers to define and restrict expression, with limited parliamentary or judicial oversight”.

Cultural Secretary Nadine Dorries (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA wire)

Privacy risks will also be increased by a requirement to prevent people from encountering illegal or inappropriate material, for example through the general monitoring of user content or the use of age verification processes, it says.

And the think tank claims the legislation will impose “Byzantine requirements” on thousands of companies, hampering innovation.

Two former cabinet ministers have made comments expressing concern about the bill, including Lord Frost, who said the government could do the best it can to slim it down.

This would allow it to “quickly move on to the really uncontroversial aspects and send the rest where it belongs — the trash can,” he said.

He warned that the bill “gives in to the views of the perennially offended — those who think the government should protect them from something they disagree with,” adding that the Tories “shouldn’t put this view into law.” “.

David Daviswho served as Brexit secretary from 2016 to 2018, added: “While the government undoubtedly has good intentions, the bill in its current form could become one of the most significant accidental breaches of free speech in modern times. “

The Directorate of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been approached for comment.

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