BCL partners Michael Drury and Julian Hayes's article 'The online harms bill misses the point' has been published by The Times.

Here's an extract from the article:

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted our almost complete reliance on the Internet, whether keeping business wheels turning, educating our children or contacting friends and family.

But the darker side of this digital dependency has been an exponential increase in illegal and legal online harms - from child abuse material to anti-vax disinformation and hate speech.

Before the pandemic, the UK launched an online harms white paper in 2019 that raised hopes of a safer digital future. Almost two years on, the government's much anticipated proposals have finally been published; heavy with soundbites but short on detail, they will disappoint many.

Though impossible to please everyone, the shock-and-awe penalties in the paper - including swingeing fines and last chance saloon threats to target senior management - fail to compensate for notable omissions, particularly on online scams.

With investment frauds, fake product reviews and now coronavirus vaccine swindles rife on the internet, consumer groups and regulators have united in calls for action, with the Financial Conduct Authority earlier this month arguing before MPs on the work and pensions committee for the inclusion of such scams in the scope of online harms regulation. Airy promises to consider future measures will seem to many like a fob-off.

Moreover, solemn promises that the government means business over tackling online harms ignore practical issues and principled debates ahead. When small forum apps such as Parler - which was implicated in the recent violent demonstrations at the US Capitol - are downloaded more than 400,000 times a day, the UK government's focus instead on giant mainstream social media platforms seems quaint.

Private messaging, long a law enforcement concern, is again under scrutiny for its role in disseminating child sexual exploitation and abuse material. However, the suggestion that service providers could be required to use automated technology to monitor private communications for such material will ring alarm bells for those concerned at striking the right balance with privacy.

This article was originally published by The Times on 21/01/2021 and you can read the full article on their website.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.