Insights Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport House of Commons Select Committee publishes Report on draft Online Safety Bill

The Committee’s Report, “The Draft Online Safety Bill and the legal but harmful debate”, states that there are several areas where existing pre-legislative scrutiny has missed an opportunity and should go further. The Committee has “urgent concerns” that, as currently drafted, the Bill neither adequately protects freedom of expression nor is clear and robust enough to tackle certain types of illegal and harmful content on user-to-user and search services.

Accordingly, the Committee has proposed several amendments to the definition and scope of harms covered by the regime that would bring the Bill into line with the UK’s obligations to freedom of expression under international human rights law.

The Committee has also recommended that the Government proactively address types of content that are technically legal, such as insidious parts of child abuse sequences like “breadcrumbing” and types of online violence against and women and girls, such as tech-enabled “nudifying” of women and deepfake pornography, by bringing them into scope either through primary legislation or as types of harmful content covered by the duties of care.

Further, the Committee found that current provisions that provide Ofcom with a suite of powers and users with redress are similarly unclear and impractical. It urges the Government to provide greater clarity within the Bill on how and when these powers should be used to ensure they are both practical and proportionate.

The Committee also rejected a recommendation made by the Draft Online Safety Bill Joint Committee to include in the Bill the establishment of a permanent Committee of both Houses on the grounds that such a development would duplicate the existing constitutional role of the DCMS Committee and undermine, rather than enhance, parliamentary scrutiny. To access the Report, click here.