Online Safety Bill a threat to human rights warn campaigners

Civil liberties groups have warned that the Online Safety Bill will fundamentally undermine human rights in the UK. In a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the organisations, which include Big Brother Watch, Liberty and Index on censorship say that the Bill seriously threatens the rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The legislation, which has been paused in recent months, places obligations on online platforms to police online speech and even targets expressly lawful expression where Ministers consider it to be “harmful”.

In their letter to the independent UN expert, the organisations raise concerns about the Bill’s legal but harmful powers. The civil liberties campaigners warn that the inclusion of these measures would result in the censorship of online speech which is “permitted in the offline world and are protected under international human rights law”. The groups also argue that powers granted by the Bill to the Secretary of State could result in “political censorship”.

Signatories also raised concerns about social media companies enforcing UK laws, rather than courts, as well as powers in the Bill which would undermine end-to-end encryption. UN Special Rapporteurs can issue communications to states urging them to address alleged or threatened human rights violations.

Commenting, Legal and Policy Officer at Big Brother Watch, Mark Johnson said:

“The Online Safety Bill is a censor’s charter which seriously threatens the rights to freedom of speech and privacy in the UK. Human rights experts have continuously warned that the legislation is seriously flawed.

“Ministers should take this opportunity to totally overhaul the legislation or risk creating a system of online censorship with disastrous consequences for our digital rights”.

Commenting, CEO of Index on Censorship, Ruth Smeeth said:

“This Government continues to ignore voices who are seeking to protect freedom of expression online. We cannot have one rule for free speech offline and another online. Index hopes that even at this late stage the Government will listen to, and engage with, the significant concerns outlined by the Special Rapporteur to ensure that the UK remains a bastion for freedom of expression.”

Commenting, Policy Manager at Open Rights Group, Dr Monica Horten said:

“Freedom of expression is a most precious right. We are writing to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to draw attention to the multiple ways in which the Online Safety Bill fails to protect it.”

Commenting, Legal Officer at Article 19, Chantal Joris said:

“The Online Safety Bill is a threat to freedom of expression. Beyond its impact in the UK, we are concerned that its flawed approach could be copied by States around the world setting a dangerous precedent for human rights online.”


Please see the letter to the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression here.

Spokespeople are available for interviews. Contact Open Rights Group on +44 (0) 207 096 1079 or


Big Brother Watch
Open Rights Group
Adam Smith Institute
Index on Censorship