Online Safety Bill will fail to stop child abuse images, warn MPs

In its current form, the government’s draft legislation tackling online safety would fail to prevent the sharing of the most “insidious” images of child abuse and violence against women and girls, according to a new report by MPs.

On Monday, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee warned that the draft Online Safety Bill is “neither clear not robust enough to tackle certain types of illegal and harmful content on user-to-user and search services”.

The report calls on the government to address content that is “technically legal” – such as parts of child abuse sequences like “breadcrumbing” and types of online violence against and women and girls like tech-enabled “nudifying” of women and deepfake pornography - by bringing them into scope via primary legislation or as types of harmful content covered by the duties of care.

“In its current form what should be world-leading, landmark legislation instead represents a missed opportunity,” said Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS Committee. “The Online Safety Bill neither protects freedom of expression nor is it clear nor robust enough to tackle illegal and harmful online content.”

The chair said that urgency is needed to make sure that the “most pernicious” forms of child sex abuse do not evade detection because of a failure in the new law.

MPs reject a recommendation made by the Joint Committee to include in the law the establishment of a permanent Committee of both Houses. They said that this would duplicate the existing constitutional role of the DCMS Committee.

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