Queen’s Speech commits government to online harms law

The bill aims to answer charities’ calls to improve internet safety for vulnerable people and follows a white paper earlier this year on the issue.

Joe Lepper | 20th Dec 19
image of vulnerable youth representing aims of Queen's Speech to increase internet safety

The government has committed itself through the Queen’s Speech to bringing in online harms legislation to protect children and vulnerable adults from digital threats.

The protection measures, outlining tougher checks on social media platforms to prevent online abuse, had been introduced by the government in April 2019 through an online harms white paper.

In this week’s Queen’s Speech the government has confirmed that it “will develop legislation to improve internet safety for all”.

“Britain is leading the world in developing a comprehensive regulatory regime to keep people safe online, protect children and other vulnerable users and ensure that there are no safe spaces for terrorists online,” states the Queen’s Speech, which was introduced into parliament on Thursday following the Conservative Party’s general election victory this month.

It adds: “ The April 2019 online harms white paper set out the government’s plan for world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. The government will continue work to develop this legislation, alongside ensuring that the UK remains one of the best places in the world for technology companies to operate.”

The white paper measures had received the backing of a number of charities supporting vulnerable people from internet harm, in particular relating to children at risk from sex offenders.

The proposals include appointing an independent regulator to ensure tech companies have a duty of care towards their users.

Child sexual exploitation

The Queen’s Speech cites recent figures, which show that in 2018 there were more than 18.4m referrals of child sexual abuse material by US tech companies to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Of these 113,948 were UK related referrals, up from 82,109 the previous year.

The online harms commitment has been welcomed by Charities Aid Foundation chief executive Sir John Low.

“There is an opportunity for the new government to put the thinking of charities at the heart of their programme, he said.

“Charities play a huge role raising billions for medical research and health provision, contribute to environmental improvement and people’s safety in communities across the land.

He added: “It is good that ministers envisage a role for charities in reducing online harm.”