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Our evidence to the UK Parliament on the Online Safety Bill

October 27, 2021

Oral Evidence: Online Safety Bill

Subject: safety duties, encompassing anonymity, age verification and assurance

We today gave evidence at a roundtable event to the Joint Committee undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Online Safety Bill.  Below are our key points:

  • Online Age Verification is the foundation of a safer internet for children through a general, well-regulated and convenient mechanism to allow online services to know the age or age-range of their users without users having to disclose their identity to the online services they access.
  • The Bill’s scope is too narrow because it was designed to address only social media. Without amendment to the scope and altering a major exemption, pornographic websites can escape regulation entirely. To avoid this, Parliament should:
    • Add a third category of sites in scope to include all sites with content considered harmful to children (with or without user-to-user services)
    • Exclude sites in this new category from the “limited functionality services” exemption
  • The Secretary of State should publish a draft list of Primary Priority and Priority Content to allow for meaningful scrutiny of the Bill in context.
  • The Bill should regulate to promote an independent, privacy-protecting, standard based, open, competitive and interoperable age verification
    • We support the integration of Baroness Kidron’s Age Assurance [Minimum Standards] Bill into this legislation
    • We are leading the design of a European network to allow for interoperability – verify your age once and use it many times on many services
  • Parliament should add a 6 month time limit for the laying before it of the suite of codes of conduct and statutory guidance to avoid the risk of 2-3 years delay while this is perfected by the Secretary of State and Ofcom.
  • Enforcement powers should be amended to enable them to be applied at scale to 1.3 million adult websites without an individual application to the Court for each of them.