The Online Safety Bill has cleared the significant hurdle of its passage though the House of Commons.
MPs had proposed a significant amendment for a new clause 2, which would impose criminal liability on senior managers of tech firms. The new provision would have opened senior managers of tech companies to prosecution for failing to comply with the child safety duties in clause 11, with possible two year jail sentences.
The Bill already contains clauses providing for tech companies to be fined for not complying with its provisions, but some MPs took the view that tech companies would see such fines as a cost of doing business.
The Bill in its current form only makes tech managers criminally liable for offences related to Ofcom’s investigation and enforcement powers.
MPs have withdrawn the amendment on the understanding that the government will introduce it at the end of the ping pong stage between the Lords and Commons.
The DCMS Secretary of State has issued a Ministerial Statement about the Bill. She says that the Irish Online Safety and Media Regulation Act (which we covered recently here) will be used as a model to introduce criminal liability. Amendments to the Bill “will be carefully designed to capture instances where senior managers, or those purporting to act in that capacity, have consented or connived in ignoring enforceable requirements, risking serious harm to children. The criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines, will be commensurate with similar offences. While this amendment will not affect those who have acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way, it gives the Act additional teeth to deliver change and ensure that people are held to account if they fail to properly protect children.”
The statement also contained updates about adding immigration and modern slavery offences to the list of the illegal priority offences in the Bill.
The Bill has now received its first reading in the House of Lords and the government has also published a new impact assessment of the changes made to it since its return to parliament in December 2022.
We intend to base our amendment on Ireland’s Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022, which introduces individual criminal liability for failure to comply with a notice to end contravention.