Draft internet safety bill published

  • Date

    Thu 19 Dec 19

An Essex legal expert has published a draft bill on internet safety, accompanied by an open letter to the returning Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan.

Since 2017, Professor Lorna Woods, from our School of Law, has been working with William Perrin of the Carnegie UK Trust, to develop a workable solution to ‘online harms’, a term that covers a range of internet safety issues.

The publication of their draft bill is intended to provide fresh impetus to the campaign to protect internet users.

In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on Thursday 19 December, the new government committed to bring forward legislation in this area.

Professor Lorna Woods said: “In their manifesto, the Conservative Party committed to legislation that would “make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.  Today’s Queen’s Speech reaffirms that commitment, but it is important that momentum is maintained.  Our draft bill aims to remind policy makers of the Carnegie UK Trust approach: a statutory duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator. Our bill demonstrates our approach is practicable and we look forward to an urgent debate on issues in this area.”

William Perrin said: “The Prime Minister talked of ending stagnation in Parliament on Brexit, but vital domestic policies have stagnated too.  Work on legislation to protect children and the elderly online has barely progressed.

“Under our draft Bill companies who run online services would need to demonstrate that their systems are safe, well run and respect human rights. We have set out in detail how parliament could legislate for a duty of care enforced by a regulator.”

The pair’s original proposal, detailed across seven unfunded blogs, inspired a national newspaper campaign and has received attention in France, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and from the EU.

The duty of care approach re-casts social media as a series of “public or quasi-public spaces”. In creating these spaces, the providers’ goal must be not maximising profit, or engagement, but user safety. The more vulnerable an audience, the greater the responsibility. 

Earlier this year, their work was shortlisted at the prestigious THE Awards, for Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Their draft Online Harm Reduction Bill is endorsed by organisations including the NSPCC, 5Rights Foundation, The Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Royal Society of Public Health.

It was published on Wednesday 18 December, accompanied by an open letter to the Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan.