Threatening tech bosses with prison damages freedom of expression

  • Threatening people who provide online services with prison could result in more censorship of lawful posts.
  • The Online Safety Bill as it stands damages our freedom of expression.
  • Compulsory age-gating the Internet threatens all our right to privacy, and restricts everyone’s access to information.

As the Online Safety Bill returns to the commons today for its delayed report stage, it appears MPs might introduce prison sentences for tech bosses that fail to censor content harmful to children.

Dr Monica Horten, ORG Policy Manager for Freedom of Expression said: “The amendment proposed by some MPs fails to adequately identify what ‘content harmful to children is’. Providers of online services won’t know what is supposed to be taken down or where they should restrict access to content.”

“Fear of a jail sentence, will lead to over-moderation where content that is lawful is removed. It portends the use of upload filters – where an algorithm sweeps in and censors content before it has been posted.”

Alongside threats of imprisonment, MPs have also strengthened the age assurance requirements. This will have the effect of making age-gating websites compulsory, restricting access to content and creating new risks to privacy.

The bill also fails to safeguard the rights of children and adults to access lawful content. In doing so, it poses a serious risk to Freedom of expression. This is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


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Notes to editor

  1. Online Safety Bill, as amended, On Re-committal in Public Bill Committee
  2. In an unusual Parliamentary procedure, the Online Safety Bill was sent back to the Committee Stage (Re-commital) on 13th and 15th December in order for these changes to be made.
  3. While the bill has removed the clauses that dealt with “content harmful to adults”, it still includes the clauses regarding harmful content for children.