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Online Safety Bill Could Take Years To Implement, Mps Warn

Ofcom needs to work quickly to implement the Online Safety Bill as it could take years before the public starts to see its benefits, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have said.

The Online Safety Bill finally passed in September  after years of delay from the government. It aims to make the UK “the safest place in the world to be online” by ensuring that online companies do not subject their users to racism, sexual abuse, bullying, fraud and other harmful material often found on the internet.

But Ofcom, which will enforce the new regulations imposed by the bill, has significant work to do in producing the legislation and documentation needed as guidance. Questions also remain over how it will manage public expectations for what the regulatory regime will achieve, the PAC said.

Its inquiry heard that there could be over 100,000 service providers falling within Ofcom’s new scope, most of them small businesses and/or based overseas. Ensuring compliance for the vast majority of providers will rely on automated processes not yet in place.

The regulator also recognises that some providers may choose not to engage with it, or be hard to contact for many smaller overseas companies, and that there is a lack of clarity over its planned approach in these cases.

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Once fully operational, the new regime is expected to be self-financing, with set-up and ongoing costs to be covered by fees levied on industry. However, the PAC’s inquiry heard that Ofcom has yet to establish the details of how the fee regime will work, with the report highlighting that Ofcom may not recover all its set-up costs until 2032-33.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “Expectations are understandably high for firm guardrails in the hitherto largely unregulated online world. We know that around two-thirds of UK children and adults say they experienced at least one potential online harm in a month in 2022, according to Ofcom, which is to be commended for how swiftly it has moved to take on its new responsibilities.

“It must now continue to be proactively frank with the public over what the Online Safety Act does and does not empower it to do, lest confidence in the new regime be swiftly undermined.

“Firm detail on fees for industry, enforcement, automated monitoring and a range of other issues must now be locked in.”

Given the length of time needed for Ofcom to implement the regulatory regime in full, the PAC said it was crucial that it meets its interim deadlines on the priority areas of illegal harms and protecting children. As of last December, Ofcom had only issued approximately 10 of the 54 documents it needs to produce by the 2026 deadline.

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Source: E&T

 

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