The Adam Smith Institute's Head of Research, Matthew Lesh, has responded to the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill's report
The joint committee's recommendations fail to alleviate the gigantic threats posed by the draft Online Safety Bill to freedom of speech, privacy and innovation. The Bill will continue to undermine most fundamental liberties and strangle start-ups in red tape, while failing to address serious crime. The joint committee's report is based on the entirely incorrect assertion that existing law does not already apply online, it does - the central question is ensuring enforcement not introducing new legislation that undermines our freedoms.
On the removal of Clause 11':
It's welcome that the joint committee is recommending removing Clause 11', that would have provided extraordinarily broad powers to censor legal but harmful' speech. But the replacement - defining a series of reasonable foreseeable risks' - remains worrying. It would still mean speech being less free online compared to offline, particularly with respect to 'psychological distress,' disinformation' and speech that a service merely has reasonable grounds to believe' could be unlawful. Even the new approach, when combined with gigantic fines and potential jail time, will encourage trigger-happy censorship.
On the scope of the proposals:
Santa Claus is comin' to town, but that's no reason to turn the Online Safety Bill into a Christmas tree. The joint committee's recommendations would substantially expand the scope of the legislation from user-to-user services into other areas like scams and pornography. They would also apply much harsher standards to smaller services, thereby undermining start-ups, competition and innovation. The committee even wants to dictate to online services how they can design their services with extraordinary granular detail. If the Bill is to achieve anything, it should be narrowly focused on actual criminal activity, not on side issues.
On age verification:
The joint committee seems to have short memories with respect to age verification. Just a few years ago the Parliament legislated for, and the government failed to implement, requirements to use a drivers license, passport or credit card to access adult content. Now they want to bring back age verification not only for pornography but also practically any digital service. Age verification raises serious privacy issues and will not prove effective.
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