Online Safety Bill provides Ofcom with ‘right powers to keep big tech in check’

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The Online Safety Bill will “broadly” equip Ofcom with what it needs to regulate tech giants, the watchdog’s boss has said.

Dame Melanie Dawes acknowledged that keeping social networks in check will be “really challenging” and suggested some areas of the proposed laws go tougher.

The Online Safety Bill is designed to make tech firms more accountable for user generated harmful content hosted on their platforms, ranging from child sex exploitation to terrorism – under the watch of Ofcom.

“Do we feel we have what we need to act and act quickly when we need to? The answer is broadly yes,” Dame Melanie told MPs and peers.

“We have clear safety duties. We think they’re well written, we have a few suggestions as to how they could be made even more specific in a couple of places.

“This is a really challenging task, there’s no question about that, but we do think that the bill gives us broadly the right overall things that we need.”

However, Dame Melanie warned that the UK’s enforcement could be at a disadvantage to similar plans by the European Union.

Speaking to the Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), she recommended that the bill should require tech firms to work with external researchers.

“There’s an opportunity for them actually, for the regulator, to set some terms for that and accredited researchers,” she said.

“And actually, the slight risk, I think that the European Union is going to make that a requirement in their bill, and therefore British research groups don’t get the same potential actually… that will disadvantage the UK if we don’t have the same powers that are going to be coming in the EU.”

Dame Melanie also expressed concern about calls for fraud to be covered by the bill, saying she is “a little bit worried about focus if we expand it too far”.

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