The Online Safety Bill - where are we now?


It has been just over six months since the Online Safety Bill was introduced in Parliament on 17 March 2022. Since its introduction, the Bill has gone through two readings in the House of Commons and was at the Report Stage when its progress was paused in July 2022.

The Bill was described by the Government at the time of its introduction as the delivery of its commitment "to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression" and it received much public attention.

The Bill sets out provisions to deal with online safety, by placing a range of responsibilities on internet service providers and search engine providers and by giving regulatory oversight of the proposed online safety laws to Ofcom. However, the proposed legislation has been the subject of much debate and has faced some fierce criticism, particularly in relation to the measures intended to target and regulate "legal but harmful" content and the impact that those measures could have on freedom of speech.  

Some groups have called for the Bill to be overhauled because of concerns that the current draft will negatively impact the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, whilst others have called for online safety laws to be passed as a matter of urgency to provide protection, particularly for young people, against harmful online content.

Whilst there is uncertainty as to exactly what the next steps and the future timeline for the Bill will be, the current Government has indicated a commitment to move the Bill forward, particularly following recent high profile scrutiny of online content on social media sites accessible by children.

The most recent Notices of Amendments, which set out all of the amendments tabled to the Bill, were published on the Parliamentary website on 7 October 2022 - available here. An update on the future progress of the Bill may therefore be just around the corner.

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