On Tuesday 10th June Baroness Howe introduced a new Online Safety Bill into the House of Lords for the new 2014/15 session. Sadly Lady Howe’s previous Bill ran out of time in the last Parliament so this is a ‘new improved’ Bill with a wider scope than before. This is Lady Howe’s fourth Bill tackling the issue of online safety and much has changed since the subject was first addressed as an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill in early 2010.
The Government has worked with Internet Service Providers to come up with a voluntary industry agreement to protect children which being called ‘default-on’. New broadband users are now asked whether they want to activate family-friendly filters which are switched on as a default unless users ask for them to be removed. This measure will be extended to all existing users by the end of the year.
This is a huge step in the right direction but there is much still to be done. Baroness Howe’s Bill provides an opportunity to see further steps taken to protect children online.
Lady Howe’s Bill would provide statutory backing for default filtering and it would also require better educational provision to engage with online behavioural challenges such as cyber-bullying which filters alone cannot address.
In addition, the new Bill contains two innovative measures to complement existing provisions and strengthen the Bill.
- Firstly, the Bill would amend the Communications Act 2003 to require that UK-based websites showing 18 and R18 (specific adult, explicit content) material have their own verification checks. This is in line with the standard required by law in relation to online gambling providers since 2007.
- Secondly, the Bill also calls for Financial Transaction Blocking as a means of preventing payments between people based in the UK and providers of 18 and R18 video-on-demand material based outside the UK. As there is a considerable influx of such hard-core material from websites based overseas this is an important provision.
You may remember that in March ATVOD, the on-demand television regulator, called upon the Government to tighten the law to make sure that R18 material is placed behind an age verification mechanism – you can read more about this here. Although the Government has made positive noises, no action has yet been forthcoming so Baroness Howe’s Bill will provide a solution to the problem highlighted by ATVOD.
The Bill will have its second reading at the end of the year or the beginning of 2015. Thank you for your support for Lady Howe’s previous Bills; your actions have provided the impetus to keep the issue of online child protection at the top of the political agenda. It is likely that there will be opportunities to support this new Bill along the way and we will keep you up to date on its progress.