Government moves to appoint Ofcom as online harms regulator

The regulator will play a key role in enforcing a statutory duty of care to protect online users

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel have announced the government’s plans to appoint Ofcom as the nation’s online harms regulator – the latest bid in the government’s attempt to make the internet a safer space.

Following the publication of the government’s initial response to the public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, the Ofcom assignment would benefit vulnerable people online, also giving consumers and businesses the guidelines needed to flourish in a “fair and proportionate regulatory environment”.

Ofcom’s ability to enforce a statutory duty of care marks one more step in the government’s mission to make the UK the safest place in the world for online activity.

Among the new powers granted to Ofcom to conduct its extended responsibilities includes ensuring digital companies have the processes in place to keep platform users safe. The regulator will take action if companies fail to tackle internet harms such as child sexual exploitation and abuse and terrorism.

The government will also set Ofcom’s clear responsibility to protect users’ rights online, paying due regard to safeguarding free speech, defending the role of the press, promoting tech innovation and ensuring businesses do not face disproportionate burdens.

In related news: Safer Schools Initiative releases advice to address online harm in the classroom

“With Ofcom at the helm of a proportionate and strong regulatory regime, we have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by groundbreaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the UK,” said Nicky Morgan.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said:”We will give the regulator the powers it needs to lead the fight for an internet that remains vibrant and open but with the protections, accountability and transparency people deserve.

“The backbone of an internet that is safe for children is regulation, which is why this announcement is so important.

“Children face growing risks online, including cyber-bullying, sexual grooming, and exposure to self-harm forums. Two thirds of the vulnerable children supported through our sexual exploitation services were groomed online before meeting their abuser in person.

“We cannot expect children to protect themselves. Instead we need a regulator to act without delay. To do so, it will need the necessary powers to carry out work effectively and to hold tech companies to account.

“Barnardo’s looks forward to working with the Government to ensure children are safe online.”

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s interim chief executive, responded: “We share the Government’s ambition to keep people safe online and welcome that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the online harms regulator.

“We will work with the government to help ensure that regulation provides effective protection for people online and, if appointed, will consider what voluntary steps can be taken in advance of legislation.”

Simon Carter, marketing and propositions director at RM education, commented: “For schools, establishing a culture of online safety – both in the classroom and at home – has become a mammoth task. We know from our own research that preventing online harm is an important but challenging area of work for schools and that an independent regulator is a move the overwhelming majority (92%) would support.

“Schools need to feel confident about implementing technology effectively and safely, to allow them to reap the rewards of innovation and digitisation that other industries are already benefitting from. The government’s announcement that it is considering appointing Ofcom as a regulator to help prevent potentially harmful online content could help increase that confidence.

“After all, cloud technology is already revolutionising the way schools are run, improving interaction, accessibility and integrating learning into students’ school and home lives. Only by instating a regulating body to monitor issues can this continue.”

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