Friday 23 August 2019

UK to make tech bosses culpable for online content

Tech firms must do more: UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Photo: PA
Tech firms must do more: UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Photo: PA
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The UK will today push ahead with a dramatically tougher regime to force online platforms to take greater responsibility for content found to encourage terrorism and child sexual exploitation and abuse.

"Put simply, the tech companies have not done enough to protect their users and stop this shocking content from appearing in the first place," Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement released by his office.

"Our new proposals will protect UK citizens and ensure tech firms will no longer be able to ignore their responsibilities."

The UK move goes beyond proposals in Ireland, where a new statutory role of online safety commissioner is currently being created by the Government.

However, it will not have the power to fine or prosecute companies like Facebook and Google at the same scale as the new UK law.

Instead, Communications Minister Richard Bruton says the commissioner's office will be mandated to issue "administrative" fines. Asked about the size of such potential fines, Mr Bruton drew comparisons with the Australian online safety commissioner, who can impose a maximum fine of Aus$500,000 (€316,000).

The new online safety commissioner will be able to set in train criminal prosecutions against social media firms that do not co-operate with takedown requests from the commissioner's office.

A commissioner is not expected to be appointed before the end of 2019. It is currently being discussed between Government and industry representatives.

Under the new UK laws, technology firms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will face "substantial" fines and even a UK ban if they don't remove content that encourages terrorism, child sexual exploitation and abuse if illegal content is not taken down within a short and pre-determined timeframe.

Technology companies' directors could also be made personally liable for companies' failures, the UK Home Office said.

The UK's Home Office, responsible for law and order issues, will today launch a public two-week consultation, including to examine the exact levels of fines following the legislation's launch.

The need for a new law over a voluntary code has been highlighted by the terrorist attack in New Zealand last month in which 50 Muslims were killed while footage was live-streamed online.

Search engines alongside online messaging services and file-hosting sites will also come under the remit of a new UK regulator.

Annual reports on what companies have done to remove and block harmful content will be required, and streaming sites aimed at children, such as YouTube Kids, will be required to block harmful content such as violent imagery or pornography. (Additional reporting: Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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