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Online Safety Bill: Children must not become casualty of free speech war

Online Safety
29 June 2022
Child with tablet 0 ld

CARE has urged MPs to keep the welfare of children at the forefront of their minds as they consider contentious online safety legislation.

This week, think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs and several ex-Tory Ministers strongly criticised the Online Safety Bill and called for swathes of it to be scrapped.

A poll of Tory party members by the IEA also suggested that support for key provisions in the bill is lacking amongst many in the Conservative base.

Contentious provisions

Some aspects of the bill are highly contentious, relating to online content that is “legal but harmful”, and content that would cause “likely” psychological harm.

Critics say vague definitions in these sections of the bill could lead to free expression in the online world being disproportionately undermined.

It would be for sites and social media platforms to establish new codes of practice that comply with the online safety regime, with Ofcom determining compliance.

Porn protections needed

Earlier this year, Ministers announced that it would seek to enact age verification measures via the Online Safety Bill, to prevent kids accessing pornography.

Some campaigners have claimed, improperly, that age verification would risk compromising the privacy of internet users and urged Ministers to change course.

Ross Hendry, CEO of CARE, commented:

Ross Hendry

“CARE recognises and shares several of the concerns raised by critics in relation to free expression online. Over-broad provisions could erode this essential liberty and impoverish public debate on a range of issues.

“However, we are concerned by the growing opprobrium against the bill as a whole and calls by some to scrap it altogether. Age verification protections are vital, as part of a wider range of measures to protect kids from porn.

“Age checks are strongly supported by the UK public, 8 in 10 of whom agree the ‘government should implement age verification to protect children from all online pornography’. And Ministers have a duty of care to uphold.

“Children must not become a casualty in debates centring around adult freedoms. Any changes to the Online Safety Bill in the name of freedom should ensure children are free to grow up without exposure to pornography.

“We call on Ministers to guarantee robust and proportionate age verification in the online safety regime and are willing to meet with them to discuss how this can be achieved.”


About CARE

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) provides analysis of social policy from a Christian perspective.

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