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In technology, what UK’s legislators have been doing with the long time coming, and equally very controversial Online Safety Bill, would be referred to as “feature creep.”
In technology, it means that a product is getting additions and having its scope broadened well beyond any original plans. The latest goings-on around Online Safety Bill are eerily reminiscent of such a circumstance.
And, “complex and incoherent” is how groups like Article 19 described the bill even before this latest development.
The new proposal for yet another addition of what will and what won’t be allowed on the internet in the UK should the bill pass includes “health-related misinformation and disinformation.” And that’s on top of everything else that critics say can be used to censor protected speech, in this way undermining the very foundations of democracy.
See the inclusion request here.
The zeal with which lawmakers (this time those from Labour and Scotland’s SNP) keep slapping more and more “features” onto this bill suggests they might see it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to push through as much censorship-enabling legislation as possible; who knows when another chance may occur: after all, the Online Safety Bill is already blasted by many civil liberties advocates as a threat not only to free speech but to human rights online.
One of the most contentious provisions in the bill is to force internet service providers to remove, and quickly, something defined as “legal but harmful” content.
This definition – if a definition it can be called – is so ambiguous and broad that the government may – and critics fear inevitably will – interpret any way it chooses, and then force tech companies to comply, to the detriment of users and their right to free expression.
Including “health misinformation” into the bill, several years into the Covid panic, and the already unprecedented censorship of the topics related to it – complete with constantly moving targets of what’s true and false (notably around the efficacy of mask-wearing) – spells out bad news.
This latest proposal is now debated in a parliamentary committee and it remains to be seen if it will be included in the draft that has already grown to “monumental” proportions.
Sadly, all too often, it’s looking like something geared towards doing more harm than good, despite its name.