The much-scrutinised Online Safety Bill has finally ascended to the House of Lords after being passed through the Commons, albeit with yet more amendments.
The bill dates back to the 2019 General Election – when it was put forward by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his manifesto. In the intervening years it has undergone a great many changes and even come close to being scrapped altogether.
Now, a new version has made it to the House of Lords, albeit with yet more changes following a revolt of back bench Conservative MPs (among them Priti Patel and Sir Iain Duncan Smith).
They argued that the existing rules were too soft on tech firms, whose bosses should face greater punishments if found to be in breach of the rules. This latest iteration will now make tech chiefs criminally liable if they are found to have not taken suitable measures to block children from seeing harmful content.
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan said that criminal penalties “including imprisonment and fines, will be commensurate with similar offences.”
She did add, however, that this would not be applied to anyone who acted in good faith, but would “ensure that people are held to account if they fail to properly protect children”.
Despite these amends, some others have criticised the amendments as being unworkable in practice. Among them was former culture secretary Sir Jeremy Wright, who argued that it may be difficult to successfully prosecute anyone under the new laws.
For users, these changes could involve more stringent age verification processes. It could also impact the tech companies in other, knock-on ways. “More vetting of users means fewer users,” an Instagram advertising expert told FT.com. “That means fewer users to advertise to, less inventory and fewer clicks and views for business”.
The bill has already passed its first reading in the House of Lords, with a second scheduled for 1 February.