The UK’s current effort to censor online speech, the Online Safety Bill, will give the government broad powers to dictate content that the tech giants have to censor and empower the police to arrest people over what they post online.
While these new powers are chilling, they are at least still tied to the UK justice system which guarantees citizens the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal.
But some provisions in the Online Safety Bill skip the police and the courts entirely and instead require the tech giants, some of which are monopolies, to act as enforcers of speech.
The bill deputizes Big Tech to seek out and prevent their users from encountering “illegal” and “fraudulent” content without any oversight from the police or the courts. This gives these powerful tech platforms the freedom to brand something illegal or fraudulent without any of the checks and balances of the justice system.
The bill also gives these tech giants additional powers that aren’t granted to police and the courts, such as the power to set their own rules around how they’ll deal with harmful content. All they have to do is state how they’ll tackle harmful content in their terms of service and then apply these provisions in their terms consistently.
These Big Tech companies already censor millions of posts each year for supposedly being harmful. With their additional powers and the threats of punishment in the Online Safety Bill, the number of censored posts is likely to be even higher if the bill comes into force.
Although the Online Safety Bill does require platforms to give users the right to appeal content takedowns, these appeals are far more centralized than the right to appeal a UK judicial decision. Under the UK justice system, citizens have the right to appeal decisions and have them reviewed by independent judges. Under the Online Safety Bill, citizens have to appeal to the tech companies that took down their content.
By deputizing Big Tech, the Online Safety Bill also creates a dystopian censorship alliance between these powerful companies and the UK government. The government can dictate its censorship requirements directly to its Big Tech enforcers without the police gathering any evidence of an alleged offense and without prosecutors gaining a conviction in a court of law or even a court order.
These provisions that skip the police and the courts and give the tech giants new enforcement powers in the UK are just one of the many aspects of the Online Safety Bill that throttles UK citizens’ civil liberties. Other provisions in the bill take aim at privacy and give large media companies benefits that aren’t afforded to regular citizens.
You can get a full overview of all the free speech and privacy threats posed by the Online Safety Bill here.
You can see a full copy of the full Online Safety Bill here.
The bill is currently making its way through Parliament and you can track its progress here.