Will we see a UK Internet Watchdog?

The UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has launched its Online Harms White Paper this month, setting out a new regulatory framework to make companies more responsible for users’ online safety. Whether social media platforms, file hosting sites, discussion forums, messaging services or search engines the White Paper proposes a new duty of care owed to website users, and an independent regulator to oversee compliance.

The Government proposes a new regulatory framework, with clear standards, that will help companies to “ensure [the] safety of users while protecting freedom of expression.”

It will establish a new duty of care, and an independent regulator to oversee and enforce this duty.

The regulator’s primary job will be to encourage “effective and efficient remedial action, rather than to levy punitive fines”. It will publish codes of practice explaining how companies should meet the new standard of care, and will have the power to issue substantial fines and impose liability, including on senior managers, where applicable. As part of this the regulator could demand the publication of annual transparency reports from companies, detailing the harmful material published on their platforms and explaining the steps they are taking to respond.

Harm to organisations will be excluded from the scope of the new regulatory framework. Further, harms suffered by individuals as a result of a breach of data protection legislation, or cybersecurity breaches, will also be excluded on the basis that they are already covered by other regulatory frameworks (e.g., the Data Protection Act 2018).

The consultation period is now open, concluding at 11:59pm on July 1, 2019. Responses and comments may be made online at: https://dcms.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5nm7sPoxilSoTg9. DCMS will also host a series of workshops to gather evidence and opinion from interested parties.