Online Safety Bill – Second Reading
On Friday, the Online Safety Bill tabled by Baroness Howe received its second hearing.
The Bill proposes legislation which would address key areas, including age verification, filtering tools, education and regulation of pornographic services, with the aim of protecting children from exposure to adult content online and other risks.
Protecting children from online pornography
Key proposals include ensuring all internet service providers and mobile operators:
- Offer parental control tools (…not just the big 4 ISPs)
- Verify that a person is over 18 before a user is able to access adult content
- Provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information about online safety to customers, at point of purchase and throughout their service.
The Bill also sets out how a regulatory framework could ensure that online services offering adult content could be required to provide age verification mechanisms. Currently ATVOD is limited to regulating services that are located in the UK, despite many of the most popular sites for accessing pornography being based outside the UK, and thus not being required to have age controls.
Baroness Howe also placed emphasis on the importance of education, stating that “Some online behavioural challenges, such as cyberbullying, sexting and grooming, can be addressed only by better education.” The Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to educate parents about online safety, including about parental control tools and protecting children from risks online.
The government’s response
In response to Baroness Howe’s outline of the Bill, Baroness Shields, the new Minister for Internet Safety and Security, responded with support and explained that much of what is proposed is already happening or will be the subject of the Government’s own considerations in meeting the manifesto commitment to “stop children's exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos.” She stated that the proposals included in the Bill would be considered alongside other proposals that are being explored currently.
As these debates continue, we look forward to seeing progress made as we seek to empower young people and those who support them, and to create an online environment that promotes children’s rights and wellbeing.