As our lives move online to an even greater extent it is vital that robust rules are in place to protect us all from harmful content online.
In the 2019 SNP manifesto, we pledged to campaign for new laws to deal with internet regulation which include putting in new measures like a statutory duty of care, to force social media and technology platform companies to protect their users properly and tackle unsuitable content, as well as appoint a new independent Online Regulator.
The SNP welcomed the Online Safety Bill, to protect young people from abuse and end the situation where misinformation and hate can spread freely on the internet, undermining democracy and freedom of intellectual exchange.
The fact that the Tory Government prioritised their International law breaking Northern Ireland Protocol Bill over the Online Safety Bill shows that the priorities of the Tories will never be to help ordinary people. And now we see the risk of the Bill being dropped entirely, with the Prime Minister refusing to commit to bringing it back to Parliament in this session.
The SNP support the ambitions of the online safety bill as thus far it represents an opportunity to hold platforms to account for harmful content on their services, especially when it comes to issues that affect vulnerable people and children. It is proposed that this may be enforced by a fine, levy and/or criminal prosecution of bad actors and digital platforms to ensure they crackdown on this type of behaviour to avoid influencing vulnerable people and children.
It is important that the right balance is struck which respects the rights of internet users to anonymity, particularly in cases where removing this protection could place people at risk. It is also vital that the Online Safety Bill balances the needs both for privacy online and to protect vulnerable children.
The SNP has always engaged actively in the development of the bill to fight for a balanced approach on end-to-end encryption that enables child protection and protects the privacy rights of citizens. In this way, apps like WhatsApp will only be covered in relation to the protection of children, and will not be monitored for communication between adults.
The SNP will also fight to ensure that freedom of speech is balanced against the need to tackle blatant and harmful misinformation which undermines public health and safety. The SNP is actively consulting with civil society organisations on how to improve the Online Safety Bill, including children’s and women’s’ rights groups, privacy rights campaigners, digital rights groups, and tech policy organisations.
The SNP will work to ensure the bill is clearly scoped in its extent, and that language around mis/disinformation is clearly defined. We have also repeatedly called for the expansive powers given to the Secretary of State under the bill to be curtailed. Too much power in the hands of ministers is never a good thing.
My SNP colleagues and I continue to support the passage of the Online Safety Bill and urge the Government to follow through on its promise to protect web users from harm.