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Peers consider proposals to create a safer internet

3rd May 2019 - James Mildred

On Tuesday, Peers debated the Government’s Online Harms White Paper which presents detailed proposals to help make the internet safer.

It’s well known that the internet is a force for good in society, allowing for the easy exchange of information and making it easier to keep in touch. However, there are growing concerns that it is still largely unregulated and children and young people especially are being put at risk.

The Government’s White Paper is part of several measures introduced to try and find the right balance between protecting people and upholding freedom of expression.

New duty of care on social media

For some time, CARE has worked on the issue of online safety, with a focus on preventing children from being needlessly exposed to pornographic content. We have worked especially closely with Baroness Howe who has been a tireless advocate for a safer internet.

Some of the aspects in the White Paper are welcome, such as the new duty of care on social media sites, but there are a number of gaps in the Government’s thinking.

Two major concerns

Firstly, the new proposals fail to engage with the fact that social media sites will be excluded from the Government’s age-verification measures which are coming into force on 15 July.

 

 

Secondly, the proposals acknowledge or close an existing loophole regarding non-photographic child sexual abuse images which means the age-verification regulator cannot ask internet service providers to block websites that contain these images.

 

 

A 'grotesque' loophole

Back in August, Baroness Howe wrote for the Daily Telegraph, warning that the current loophole on non-photographic child sexual abuse images was a loophole too far.

The same point was made in the House of Commons by Margot James MP, the Minister of State for Digital and Creative Industries who said in a debate on 17 December, 2018: "That strikes me a grotesque loophole". 

In her article, Baroness Howe also cited ComRes polling for CARE which showed 71% of MPs and 76% of female MPs did not think it right that the loophole existed.

Next steps

The proposals in the White Paper are currently being consulted on in a public consultation which closes at 23:59 on 1 July 2019.

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