Make tech giants criminally liable from start of Online Safety Bill, MPs urge – iNews

Technology executives should be made criminally liable for their companies’ failure to protect vulnerable users from the moment new online safety laws come into power, MPs have urged.
The Online Safety Bill, forthcoming legislation designed to protect vulnerable web users and hold Big Tech to account, currently contains provisions for the imposition of criminal sanctions of named tech executives around two years after the laws are passed.
MPs urged the Government to remove the two-year grace period before criminal sanctions can be faced during a Commons debate.
Broadcast regulator Ofcom will have the power to slap companies with multibillion pound fines, a deterrent then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in May last year was significantly more effective than the threat of criminal sanctions.
Mr Dowden said that while he believed social media firms were “much more motivated by financial consequences than they are by the criminal liability of individual people,” he would seek to enact the secondary legislation necessary to take legal action if the fines didn’t work.
“I would rather we didn’t impose new criminal law, I think we should have a very high bar for that position,” he said.
“I took the lobbying and representation that I’ve seen from many different groups about the need for criminal sanctions very seriously. I didn’t believe that they had sufficiently made the case to introduce it immediately in primary legislation, but I thought that it made a strong enough case that we should reserve that power.”
Nadine Dorries, the current Culture Secretary, has voiced her support for reducing the two-year grace period to within three to six months.
Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge told MPs that in her experience, failure to introduce director liability for company wrongdoing did not change company behaviour.
“Even fines of £50m are not significant in Facebook’s gross revenue of over £29bn. I don’t understand why we have to wait two years to implement director liability,” she said.
“This could be done immediately. And I would be grateful to the minister [head of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill Damian Collins] if he would say that he is going to implement that.”
Conservative MP Suzanne Webb agreed, saying the human cost of the internet was “unquantifiable,” adding that tech companies should not have to wait for the passage of the bill to do the right thing.
“For me, the key recommendation is that a senior manager at board level reporting is made liable for a new offence, the failure to comply with their obligations as a regulated service provider when there is clear evidence of repeated and systematic failings that result in a significant risk of serious harm to users,” she said.
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