The Parliament has voted in favour of the Online Safety Bill with a majority. This controversial law includes a series of contentious measures aimed at protecting children online, including undermining end-to-end encryption. The law has faced significant criticism.
The UK House of Commons has approved the bill, making it soon to become law. Technology Minister Michelle Donelan expressed pride in the law, which she believes implements a zero-tolerance policy concerning child protection. The law will be enforced by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator.
The Online Safety Bill comprises a package of measures primarily targeting internet and social media companies. These companies, for example, must do more to verify user ages and “take measures to ensure that children do not come into contact with harmful content.” More importantly, companies must immediately remove “illegal content” and take strong measures to prevent it from appearing on their platforms in the first place. Companies must also develop filters against such harmful content that parents can set for their children. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to ten percent of a company’s global annual revenue imposed by the regulator.
The law has come under fire multiple times in the past year. One of the biggest points of contention was a specific requirement to scan encrypted content for harmful materials like child abuse material. Experts have been saying for years that end-to-end encryption cannot be undermined in this way. Several companies, including Apple and Facebook, threatened to withdraw their chat apps from the UK if the law was passed. In later revisions of the law, this requirement was somewhat softened. It was recently revealed that the law will not be enforced until tools exist to read end-to-end encrypted chats.