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.

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Comments on “UK Government Refreshes Its Terrible 'Online Safety Bill,' Adds Even More Content For Platforms To Police”

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Jojo (profile) says:

Re: Oi, jackass

Section 230 doesn’t enable bullying. It enables content moderation, a tool that can be used to combat bullying. If section 230 didn’t exist, there’s a possibility that you wouldn’t be able to puppet the musings of a wet fart. You can literally read section 230 for less than two minutes and understand it seamlessly. It’s 26 words long. But I imagine it’s hard to read something when your head is so far up your ass.

So piss off and quit wasting your time trying to be a devil’s advocate, you blissfully ignorant dumbass.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not really. Most adults are capable of some kind of self-control or self self-(get ready for this word!)-censorship where they understand things like nuance, context and appropriateness. They naturally evaluate the situation, the audience and adjust what they say accordingly. That’s why you don’t typically start banging on about religion in an office setting or start talking about complex work issues when you’re sitting in a bar with non-work friends.

The only people who seem to be having an overall problem with being "silenced" (which usually means "I encountered a situation where what I did was inappropriate and offensive, so it must be everyone else’s fault") are assholes. Most people manage to live their lives without ever being told to leave a room because they’re disrupting everyone else.

Also, when most people do accidentally come up against consequences for what they say, they typically go "sorry, I’ll keep it down in future" and they’re fine after that. It’s only a problem when people demand they do and say whatever they want without consequence with no regard for the rights and feelings of those around them. Before the internet, I used to think those people were literally toddlers, but now I see some people never really grow past that state mentally.

As ever, feel free to provide concrete verifiable examples of people who have been "silenced" for merely saying something objectionable rather than being a deliberate asshole to the people around them. But, after years of asking for such things such an example has never been provided to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wait until you see what’s next.

You’ve been trotting out these vague threats ever since Shiva Ayyadurai bombed his silly, petty lawsuit to destroy this site, John. And now you have to rely on the UK’s children to leverage your efforts instead of that police investigation and press release you promised so long ago? Damn, you’re pathetic.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Now it’s time to connect all the legal dots

Mate you had three, four years to do this threat nonsense. You might think that you’ll have a Morgan Pietz moment where Otis Wright learns how deep the Prenda Law rabbit hole goes, but that’s an apples to chainsaws comparison.

Oh wait, didn’t you say that Prenda would appeal and Prenda would win? That bold claim aged poorly, didn’t it?

Just not here.

Sure thing, chum – you’ll be here a few months from now trotting out the exact same toothless threats. How’s that Paul Hansmeier fund coming along now that you’ve got one of your copyright heroes in prison?

ECA (profile) says:


Dear UK.
You have now solved your employment problems.
You can hire 1000’s at low wages to monitor the internet.
Talk to each corp and give those people access to Everything being posted.
Now you have a problem. You will have everyone monitoring the net, for you. No other jobs need to be done.
Unless these corps decide to Not allow service in your area. And just bypass you and the Most of the EU.
Then you have no source of locating the hidden data of terrorist actions.

That One Guy (profile) says:

At least be honest you tyrannical cowards

UK government: Oh no no no, we’re not making encryption illegal explicitly, we’re just proposing a law that would make having encryption a massive liability and open people up to potential jail time. It’s still entirely their choice whether to employ encryption or not.

It’s like they’re doing a speed-run to see how fast they can have every platform geoblock any UK user by making it far too risky to set up and/or offer service to anyone in the country. It’s a good thing the internet isn’t a huge boon to the economy and numerous other aspects of modern society otherwise wow would this be a stupid move on their part.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: At least be honest you tyrannical cowards

A lot of this is typical Tory stuff that I saw in the 80s. Grandstand on moral issues while not actually doing anything positive (and actually causing harm by defunding social programs), demand censorship in ways that don’t really work and blame others when it fails. At some point someone with common sense will step in or party donors will point out how what they’re doing is bad for their bottom line, and they’ll quietly reverse or simply stop enforcing their proposals.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: At least be honest you tyrannical cowards

To a point, though they are tempered to some degree with having to (publicly, at least) support the NHS and other such issues that would have them called communists in the US, and religion is not something that’s a regular subject of discussion (and obviously guns are a non-starter politically). On some issues, they’re on the same level or even further left than the Democrats in the US (again, publicly, behind closed doors they often say something else) but on others they are like the Republicans. On things that would be considered issues of "morality" they usually swing right.

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