On the 14th January 2020, Lord McNally placed a bill infront of Parliament that would “assign certain functions of OFCOM in relation to online harms regulation”. This executive summary appears to be a loose description of what’s contained, with the text seemingly requiring OFCOM to write a report each year with recommendations for the introduction of an Online Harms Reduction Regulator.
It is not clear why recommendations are required every year, nor why the lead has now moved fromDCMS to OFCOM (I can only assume that it is because the OFCOM is much closer to the cut-and-thrust of Regulation.
So what might it mean for Platform and Service Providers?
In the short term – probably not a lot, however, there are a couple of key points that providers may want to keepabreast of:
1) We can see that progress is being made – and is more likely to increase than decrease.
2) The Online Harms (as initially laid out in the OHWP) have been narrowed down to focus on certain ones in particular. This means that a Platform Provider is probably well advised to ensure that these are being tackled actively. The Harms laid out in the paper are:
(a) terrorism (or it could be in reference to this definition);
(b) dangers to persons aged under 18 and vulnerable adults;
(c) racial hatred, religious hatred, hatred on the grounds of sex or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation;
(d) discrimination against a person or persons because of a protected characteristic;
(e) fraud or financial crime;
(f) intellectual property crime;
(g) threats which impede or prejudice the integrity and probity of the electoral process; and
(h) any other harms that OFCOM deem appropriate.
Unfortunately, as you have probably recognised, these descriptions of Online Harms are not well correlated with those laid out in the OHWP – and so OFCOM will probably struggle initially with the lack of tight definition of these Harms, before it can make any meaningful report.
The Bill is in its Second Reading and we will try and provide further update as it progresses.