Clause 46 - Relationship between duties and codes of practice

Online Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 13 Rhagfyr 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendments made: 38, in clause 46, page 44, line 27, after “have” insert “particular”.

This amendment has the result that providers of services who take measures other than those recommended in codes of practice in order to comply with safety duties must have particular regard to freedom of expression and users’ privacy.

Amendment 39, in clause 46, page 45, line 12, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 7 (removal of clause 13).

Amendment 40, in clause 46, page 45, line 31, at end insert “, or

(ii) a duty set out in section 14 (user empowerment);”.—(Paul Scully.)

This amendment has the effect that measures recommended in codes of practice to comply with the duty in clause 14 are relevant to the question of whether a provider is complying with the duties in clause 20(2) and (3) (having regard to freedom of expression and users’ privacy).

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Tech, Gambling and the Digital Economy)

I do not wish to repeat myself and test the Committee’s patience, so I will keep my comments brief. As it stands, service providers would be treated as complying with their duties if they had followed the recommended measures set out in the relevant codes of practice, as set out in the Bill. However, providers could take alternative measures to comply, but as I said in previous Committee sittings, Labour remains concerned that the definition of “alternative measures” is far too broad. I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on his assessment of the instances in which a service provider may seek to comply via alternative measures.

The codes of practice should be, for want of a better phrase, best practice. Labour is concerned that, to avoid the duties, providers may choose to take the “alternative measures” route as an easy way out. We agree that it is important to ensure that providers have a duty with regard to protecting users’ freedom of expression and personal privacy. As we have repeatedly said, the entire Online Safety Bill regime relies on that careful balance being at the forefront. We want to see safety at the forefront, but recognise the importance of freedom of expression and personal privacy, and it is right that those duties are central to the clause. For those reasons, Labour has not sought to amend this part of the Bill, but I want to press the Minister on exactly how he sees this route being used.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

It is important that service providers have flexibility, so that the Bill does not disincentivise innovation or force service providers to use measures that might not work for all business models or technological contexts. The tech sector is diverse and dynamic, and it is appropriate that companies can take innovative approaches to fulfilling their duties. In most circumstances, we expect companies to take the measures outlined in Ofcom’s code of practice as the easiest route to compliance. However, where a service provider takes alternative measures, Ofcom must consider whether those measures safeguard users’ privacy and freedom of expression appropriately. Ofcom must also consider whether they extend across all relevant areas of a service mentioned in the illegal content and children’s online safety duties, such as content moderation, staff policies and practices, design of functionalities, algorithms and other features. Ultimately, it will be for Ofcom to determine a company’s compliance with the duties, which are there to ensure users’ safety.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55 disagreed to.