UK Government Refreshes Its Terrible 'Online Safety Bill,' Adds Even More Content For Platforms To Police
from the maybe-the-gov't-could-just-print-out-a-shorter-list-of-speech-it-likes dept
The UK’s internet censorship bill rebranded from “Online Harms” to “Online Safety” last spring. The name change did nothing to limit the breadth of the bill, despite supposedly shifting the focus from “harm” to “safety.” Whatever the name, it’s still being touted by supporters as a fix for anything anyone doesn’t like about the internet.
Speech will be policed. Lots of it. Everyone from megalithic Meta to the person running a niche message board will be subject to the new rules, which shifts liability from the posters of unwanted or illegal content to the third parties hosting it.
In order to find and remove content found on the ever-lengthening list of “bad” content (which, let’s highlight again, includes legal content), platforms and services will have to perform more internal policing of content. This means that, in many cases, encryption for content and communications will no longer be a viable option. To comply with the law — one that carries potential fines of up to 10% of a company’s global revenues — providers will have to remove end-to-end encryption so they can monitor communications between users.
The UK government isn’t honest enough to call for the end of encryption. But it’s willing to let attrition do its dirty work for it. The anti-encryption agitating continues, despite the UK government’s Information Commissioner’s Office telling the rest of the government that weakening or eliminating encryption will harm more children than it saves.
The bill marches forward, gathering even more speech-harming detritus. As CNBC reports, another round of UK government inquiries has resulted in the proposed law being made even worse.
The government said Friday that the bill will now include extra-priority provisions outlawing content that features revenge porn, drug and weapons dealing, suicide promotion and people smuggling, among other offences.
It will also target individuals who send online abuse and threats, with criminal sentences ranging up to five years.
Stuff that was already on the ban list has been given greater priority, aligning self-harm and drug dealing with the big baddies of “terroristic content” and child sexual abuse material. Online threats and “abuse” will get stiffer legal penalties.
But that’s not all: there’s more to add to the UK government’s list of content it would like to treat as criminal acts.
The government said it is considering further recommendations, including specific offences such as sending unsolicited sexual images and trolling epilepsy sufferers, tackling paid-for scam advertising, and bringing forward criminal liability for senior company executives at the tech firms.
Every addition adds to the list of content that platforms and services must proactively monitor and remove. The addition of criminal liability for tech execs may seem like a crowd pleasing Guillotine 2.0, but in reality, it just means jailing people because their companies failed to achieve the impossible tasks the UK government has asked of them.
A lot of what’s being added won’t be easily detected by AI or human moderators — certainly not proactively. Context matters but proactive monitoring means context will be ignored. The difference between revenge porn and regular porn isn’t immediately and obviously clear. Pictures of guns or drugs are not necessarily promotional. And there are going to be some people in desperate need of help getting caught in the friction between talking about suicide and “suicide promotion.”
It all sounds good when it’s still on paper and reads like a blueprint for a trouble-free online existence. But it falls apart the moment you start asking questions about how this can be implemented without massively altering the contours of free speech in the UK and generating an incredible amount of collateral damage that may, in many cases, negatively affect the same vulnerable people the government believes this bill will protect.