AP

UK waters down online restrictions after free speech outcry

Nov 28, 2022, 12:34 AM | Updated: 2:59 pm

LONDON (AP) — The British government on Monday abandoned a plan to force tech firms to remove internet content that is harmful but legal, after the proposal drew strong criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties groups.

The U.K. has watered down its Online Safety Bill, an ambitious but controversial attempt to crack down on online racism, sexual abuse, bullying, fraud and other harmful material. Similar efforts are underway in the European Union and the United States, but the U.K.’s was one of the most sweeping. In its original form, the bill gave regulators wide-ranging powers to sanction digital and social media companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Critics expressed concern that a requirement for the biggest platforms to remove “legal but harmful” content could lead to censorship and undermine free speech.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who took office last month, has now dropped that part of the bill, acknowledging that it could “over-criminalize” online content.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan said the change removed the risk that “tech firms or future governments could use the laws as a license to censor legitimate views.”

Instead, the bill says companies must set out clear terms of service, and stick to them. Companies will be free to allow adults to post and see offensive or harmful material, as long as it is not illegal. But platforms that pledge to ban racist, homophobic or other offensive content and then fail to live up to the promise can be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover.

The legislation also requires firms to help people avoid seeing content that is legal but may be harmful — such as the glorification of eating disorders, misogyny and some other forms of abuse — through warnings, content moderation or other means.

Companies also will have to show how they enforce user age limits designed to keep children from seeing harmful material.

The bill still criminalizes some online activity, including cyberflashing — sending someone unwanted explicit images — and epilepsy trolling, sending flashing images that can trigger seizures. It also makes it an offense to assist or encourage self-harm, a step that follows a campaign by the family of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who ended her life in 2017 after viewing self-harm and suicide content online.

The government hopes the changes will be enough to get the bill through Parliament, where it has languished for 18 months amid widespread opposition.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: Members of the Makah Indian tribe paddle away from the rising sun as they head from Neah Bay...

Associated Press

Washington’s Makah Tribe clears major hurdle toward resuming traditional whale hunts

The U.S. granted the Makah Indian Tribe a long-sought waiver that helps clear the way for its first sanctioned whale hunts since 1999.

14 hours ago

jerry west...

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the NBA logo, dies at 86

Jerry West, a three-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee whose silhouette is considered to be the basis of the NBA logo, died Wednesday morning.

2 days ago

Photo: Construction vehicles are parked outside of the Station U & O building on Tuesday, June 11, ...

Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press

Amazon adds $1.4B to affordable housing fund for regions where it has corporate offices

Amazon is adding $1.4B to a fund for building more affordable housing in regions where the company has major corporate offices.

2 days ago

hunter biden...

Randall Chase and the Associated Press

Hunter Biden convicted of all 3 felony charges in federal gun trial

Hunter Biden has been convicted of all three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018, but no sentencing date was set.

3 days ago

Photo: A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real e...

Associated Press

Bremerton man sentenced for 20 ‘swatting’ calls of false threats in US, Canada

A Bremerton man who made 20 "swatting" calls around the U.S. and in Canada, prompting real emergency responses, has been sentenced.

3 days ago

Image: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zele...

Associated Press

Ukraine uses US weapons to strike inside Russia, a Western official tells AP

Ukraine has used U.S weapons to strike inside Russia in recent days, according to a Western official familiar with the matter told the AP.

9 days ago

UK waters down online restrictions after free speech outcry