The Bill will be scrutinised in the committee stage and should be presented back to the legislature by 30 June 2022

The draft Online Safety Bill (OSB) is set to be scrutinised after it received a second reading in the House of Commons last week (19 April 2022). 

Scrutiny will be conducted by a public bill committee and reported back to the House of Commons by 30 June 2022.

It was also agreed that, if proceedings on the OSB are not concluded by the end of this parliament session, scrutiny would continue into the following session.

Speaking during the debate at the House of Commons last week, Conservative MP Damian Collins said: “This is an incredibly important bill, it has huge cross-party support and was subject to the scrutiny of the joint committee which produced a unanimous report [that] I think shows the widespread feeling in both houses, and both sides of this chamber as well, that we do legislate.”

He added, however: “Unless this [bill] covers the systems of social media companies, as well as the content it hosts, then it will not be effective.”

He noted that the draft OSB does cover the systems of social media firms, although he warned that amendments to the code of practice could bring new offences into its scope.

Many in the insurance industry, such as Aviva, have long been campaigning for the bill’s scope to be broadened to include financial scams. 

Rob Lee, fraud prevention director, Aviva, said: “Aviva has long called for greater consumer protection from online fraud by urging government to include financial scams promoted by paid-for adverts in the scope of the OSB.

“We will be reviewing the legislation in detail to ensure that it lives up to the government’s aim for the UK to be the safest country in the world to be online. This legislation could not be more urgent, as it comes at a time of significant increases in the cost of living and increased financial stress – and we know that fraudsters target and exploit people with low financial resilience.”

Colins noted that regulator Ofcom will have the power to tell technology companies whether the measures and actions taken to comply with the new legislation are adequate or not – in that sense the regulator could still find firms in breach of the new regulations. 

“We have to go beyond just enforcing the terms of service that companies have created for themselves, making sure they do what they say they are going to do. As the secretary of state says it is really important that we should have the ability to push them to go further,” Collins added.

In an instance where a particular piece of content is judged as an offence and subsequently removed, Collins stressed that there was no obligation on the company’s part to proactively identify any copies of that content. He called this system “woefully ineffective”.

He said regulation should consider ”risk, and not size” and admitted that Ofcom would need to make some judgment calls.

For Collins, the job of Ofcom is to set the threshold for intervention, which he believes should be based on case law. 

“That creates a good basis and guideline of what that speech is in that context,” Collins added, “Rather than describing these things as legal but harmful, it’s better to describe them as they are which is regulated offences based on existing offences in law.”