Minister pledges to put politics aside for Online Safety Bill as he calls on platforms to act now at UKSIC partner event

07 Dec 2022 UK SIC

The Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy has dubbed the Online Safety Bill a “cross-party” issue at an event hosted by UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) partner, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

Paul Scully was one of the speakers at the event, focused on eliminating child sexual abuse online, at Westminster’s Central Hall last night (6 December).

Scully, who’d opened discussions on the Online Safety Bill in Parliament the day before, said: “It’s incumbent on all of us to work together because the Online Safety Bill is not a silver bullet. However, I’m really pleased it’s been brought back as children, in particular, are still suffering. You should be able to go online and benefit from the amazing things that the internet has to offer. The internet and social media are amazing because of the reach they have and the fact they allow you to communicate with people across the world – however, that also poses dangers and it’s that fine line we must work on.

“What we are doing with the Bill, having brought it back in its new form, which I think has reached the right balance, is that we’ve strengthened the protections with children. How? We’re making sure the Children’s Commissioner is a statutory consultee with Ofcom and that Ofcom must have regard for organisations like the IWF to make sure children’s voice is right at the heart of the codes of the practices that they bring in. You should not have to listen to, or see, anything that you think is harmful so companies must be able to provide tools for you to be able to switch that off.

“For parents and children, it’s also important that platforms publish a risk assessment, in a clear and transparent way to ensure that parents understand what their children are doing online. We’ll still need the work of organisations like IWF to assist but this will hopefully allow parents to do what they do – parent. It’s not enough to outsource parenting to these platforms, we’ve all got to play our part.

“In terms of timeline, we’ll look to finish the Bill off in the Commons as soon after Christmas as possible so that we can get it to the Lords because this must be on the statute books by the end of this session. However, platforms don’t have to wait until then. They know the direction we’re going in; they know the measures we’re putting in place and they can start putting those into place now – age verification, age assurance etc. The technology does exist, but they can also be working to develop it to make sure it’s as robust as possible.

“I will also redouble my efforts. I appreciate this is a cross party issue and there are no politics involved in this, it is just so important that we get it right for the most vulnerable in our society and to make sure we make the most of these platforms. At the crux of it, we’re just asking platforms to enforce their own terms and conditions so that we can enjoy the benefits of the internet safely. Two thirds of parents believe their children are not safe online with 81% wanting government to do more. If we can do more through the Bill then we can work with social media firms and educational lead to ensure parents are able to make these informed choices on behalf of their children. Then we can get to a far, far better place.”

Scully, who was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in October, also praised actress Samantha Morton, who shared her personal experience of child sexual abuse at the event. During her speech, Morton had expressed dissatisfaction at the sentences handed to perpetrators and called on the government to do more.

In response, Scully said; “It’s testaments like yours that really bring these issues home, there’s nothing more powerful than that. You’re right to be angry and I can understand why because it’s the most heinous crime that we’re describing here. We increased sentencing last year with the Police and Crime Act but there’s always more that we can do because we really need to throw the book at these people. However, they’re amongst the cleverest criminals so we’ve got to continue to find new ways of tackling these issues – that’s why the work of the IWF is so vital to us.”

Former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid also spoke at the event – which was hosted by IWF chair, Andrew Puddephatt OBE.

Picture by Matthew Power Photography

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