Simon Spence QC comments on the Online Safety Bill

September 23, 2021

Simon Spence QC was interviewed by human rights online magazine about the Online Safety Bill. The introduction of a Bill to keep people safe online was announced by government in 2019 with the Online Harms White Paper [Government Consultations – Online Harms White Paper].

The draft Online Safety Bill is due to be discussed in an oral evidence session in Parliament today (23/09/21) yet one of the most significant criticisms of the bill is its vagueness. It does not clearly define what “harmful” content actually means or what “ordinary sensibilities” are. Simon says:

“Who decides what’s harmful and what isn’t?…What happens if people disagree about it? Who makes the ultimate decision? When something is as grey and open to interpretation as that, I do think you’ve got a potential problem.”

The Bill will certainly undergo significant changes before it is able to pass through both houses of parliament. Simon concludes:

“The regulatory powers given to the Secretary of State (SOC) should be subject to the scrutiny of parliament…..Because If parliament decided that the SOC was acting unlawfully, they would then be able to say ‘you can’t do that’. As I read it, although parliament has the power of scrutiny over Ofcom’s codes of practice, there doesn’t appear to be any scope for parliament to oversee any amendments made to the codes of practice made by the SOC, which is a potential area of concern.”

Read full piece here: [Each Other]