STATEMENT
The UK government’s online harms white paper shows disregard for freedom of expression
05 Apr 2019
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

Index on Censorship is concerned that the government’s online harms white paper, due out on Monday, contains proposals that will restrict freedom of expression and limit access to information online.

According to leaked details, it will include a statutory duty of care, which will be enforced by a regulator. Ofcom is expected to take on the role of regulator to begin, with a new regulator established later. Online companies will need to comply with a code of practice. The regulator will be empowered to impose large fines and hold directors personally liable.

Index is particularly concerned about the duty of care. The concept is closely linked to the “precautionary principle”, which has been widely applied in the environmental field, where it means not waiting for full scientific certainty before taking action to prevent harm. This makes sense. However, applying the precautionary principle to freedom of expression runs a high risk of legitimising censorship, especially when combined with large fines. It creates a strong incentive for online platforms to restrict and remove content.

A wide definition of “online harms” would seriously damage freedom of expression. The Ofcom survey mentioned in the article above is quoted as finding that “45% of adult internet users had experienced some form of online harm”.

A closer look shows that the harms listed in the survey question included, for example, spam, targeted advertising and bad language. A significant proportion was rated as “moderately annoying”.

Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy, said: “The online harms white paper will set the direction for future internet regulation. Index is concerned that protecting freedom of expression is less important than the government wanting to be seen as ‘doing something’ in response to public pressure. Internet regulation needs a calm, evidence-based approach that safeguards freedom of expression rather than undermining it.”

Index urges UK government to rethink proposals for online harms regulation over risks to media freedom

Index on Censorship has filed an official alert with the Council of Europe about risks to media freedom in proposals in the government’s recently released online harms white paper. The white paper has raised serious concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression, including press freedom. In response to a letter from Ian Murray of the [...]

No sex please, we’re British: Why is no one talking about the UK’s impending “porn ban”?

The Digital Economy Act 2017 has the potential to pose a severe threat to the anonymity of people in the UK.

Online harms proposals pose serious risks to freedom of expression

While we recognise the government’s desire to tackle unlawful content online, the proposals mooted in the white paper – including a new duty of care on social media platforms, a regulatory body, and even the fining and banning of social media platforms as a sanction – pose serious risks to freedom of expression online.

Fundación Karisma: “At the heart of Karisma’s work has always been the promotion of access to knowledge and culture”

Winner of the 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Digital Activism Award, Fundación Karisma is a civil society organisation fighting for digital rights in Colombia.

Comments are closed.