Thursday 23 January 2020

UK poised to increase tech bosses' personal liability

Pledge: US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has vowed to break up Facebook
Pledge: US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has vowed to break up Facebook
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The UK looks set to introduce new laws to make tech company executives more personally liable for harm visited upon users of their products and services.

The move, flagged for almost a year, could mean jail time for bosses in big social media and online service companies.

As part of the initiative, the British government will create a statutory duty of care for technology giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

This will reportedly be overseen by Ofcom, the UK regulatory body tasked with keeping order over telecoms firms.

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According to the London 'Times', the new code will also include a "senior management liability", which would mean that executives of the technology firms would become directly responsible for breaches of care.

The result could include prosecution and incarceration for tech bosses under extreme circumstances, it is reported.

Most of the companies the new law is aimed at are headquartered in Ireland.

To get around this, the legislation would require the nomination of a UK-based director, who would take responsibility under British law.

The UK initiative comes as the Irish Government prepares to introduce legislation for a new Online Safety Commissioner, which would marginally increase the State's power to fine tech companies based here.

The legislation is aimed at reducing harassment, bullying and threats for users of online services. It will give the new commissioner increased powers to order take-downs of offending material.

It also comes as US presidential candidates debate the merits of breaking up big tech companies which, it is claimed, have amassed too much control over citizens' daily lives.

"Today's big tech companies have too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy," said one of the US Democratic Party's leading presidential election candidates, Elizabeth Warren.

Ms Warren proposes to break Facebook up into constituent parts, which could result in separate corporate structures for WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook itself.

She also suggests doing this with Google, by separating YouTube from its search engine.

Last month, the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen called on governments to make tech executives more personally legally responsible.

"Maybe fines are not enough," he said.

"Maybe it's time to tell... the CEOs of these companies, 'you already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar; do it again and you go to jail'."

Irish Independent

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