The UK government’s latest push to censor online speech, the 225 page Online Safety Bill, has been roundly criticized by rights groups and proponents who have branded it a “censor’s charter” and “an attack on free speech.”
UK Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary of State Nadine Dorries, one of the main proponents of the bill, has pushed back against this criticism by pointing to the bill’s “duties to protect free speech.”
However, these duties and the duties for platforms to protect user privacy are so weak that they have no impact when platforms comply with the bill’s obligations to tackle “harmful” content.
The bill pays lip-service to the idea that platforms should “have regard” to the importance of “protecting users’ right to freedom of expression within the law” and that they should be “protecting users from a breach of any statutory provision or rule of law concerning privacy.”
But if platforms comply with these over-reaching obligations to tackle this so-called “harmful but legal” speech as outlined in the bill, they will, by default, be at odds with the idea of protecting speech rights and privacy.
The bill itself is the biggest threat to free speech and privacy in living memory and Big Tech platforms have no history of protecting either.
Provisions for privacy should not mean social media monopolists acting as a guardian of user privacy; they should be in place to protect citizens’ data from the platforms themselves.
Not only does the bill have weak free speech protections but it also disproportionately impacts small, independent media outlets, harms privacy, and creates a dystopian censorship alliance between Big Tech companies and the UK government.
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.