Free expression online

A dangerous precedent for global censorship

ORG responds to Ofcom’s Online Safety Act plans

Last week, Open Rights Group responded to Ofcom’s Illegal Harms consultation, the first of a series of consultations Ofcom will be holding on the development of its guidance for the Online Safety Act.

Previously, ORG responded to both the Online Harms White paper and the Online Safety Act, while it made its way through the Houses of Parliament as a Bill. We have submitted numerous policy briefings to parliamentarians about our concerns around the Act’s impacts on online privacy, security, and free speech. And in June of last year, we coordinated a letter that was signed by over 80 civil society organisations, academics and cyber experts from 23 countries urging the UK government to protect encrypted messaging. 

But there are still numerous pressing concerns in both the Act itself and Ofcom’s proposed guidance.

Freedom of expression

The Online Safety Act casts a wide net around content that must be removed and is likely to result in increased amounts of lawful content being taken down from the Internet. In July 2023, a legal opinion found that there were, “real and significant issues” regarding the lawfulness of a clause in the then Online Safety Bill, that appeared to require social media platforms to proactively screen their users’ content and prevent them from seeing anything deemed illegal. The opinion found that there is, “likely to be significant interference with freedom of expression that is unforeseeable and which is thus not prescribed by law”.

Despite the guidance running over 1,700 pages in length, the guidance pays lip service to freedom of expression but does very little to ensure that companies will be incentivized to take free speech obligations seriously.Companies are asked to balance the accuracy of content removals with the swiftness of content takedowns, without meaningful guidance on how this balance should be achieved and with incentives and penalties heavily leaning towards speed. Already vulnerable or marginalised groups, like activists, racialised or queer communities, and people posting in non-Western languages experience the highest rates of wrongful content takedowns and are likely to be impacted by the increased amounts of content removed under this Act.

ORG urges Ofcom to make it clear throughout its guidance that companies must ensure human rights and due process considerations are accounted for through all stages of the moderation process. Companies must also be transparent about how they are incorporating free expression and non-discrimination concerns into these considerations. Additionally, ORG recommends Ofcom consider new ways to incentivize and support companies to improve accuracy and transparency of moderation policies and decisions.


As Ofcom continues to develop its guidance on the Online Safety Act, it is essential to consider the broader implications for freedom of expression, privacy, and democratic principles. Failure to do so could not only undermine fundamental rights and freedoms within the UK, but also set a dangerous precedent for online censorship globally if repressive regimes take the Act and Ofcom’s guidance as a licence to further censor and penalise legitimate speech. Our full consultation response can be found via the link below and we welcome thoughts or engagement at

Ofcom consultation response

Open Rights Group Response to Ofcom consultation: “Protecting people from illegal harms online”

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