UK internet safety bill put on hold pending new prime minister

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A major populist but controversial UK bill to regulate internet content with a child-safe system is on hold until the fall, when the government is set to elect a new prime minister following Boris Johnson’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party last week.

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PoliticsHome said yesterday that the Internet Safety Bill would be dropped from the House of Commons next week, with a view to returning it in the fall.

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The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has denied that the law is being repealed at all, but now the fate of the bill will clearly depend on the new prime minister and their appetite for regulating online performance.

Critics of the bill continue to warn that it vastly exceeds content regulation while burdening the UK’s digital sector with huge compliance costs.

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Digital rights groups seized the moment to call for a rethink, while child advocacy groups and the opposition Labor Party denounced the latest delay in legislation that has already been years in creation.

Index on Censorship called the bill “fundamentally broken” and CEO Ruth Smith said BBC: “The next prime minister needs a complete rethink.

“It would give tech executives like Nick Clegg and Mark Zuckerberg tremendous control over what we can all say online, make the UK the first democracy in the world to hack encrypted messaging apps, and it would make people exposed abuse on the Internet. less secure by forcing platforms to remove vital evidence.”

The call was echoed by Open Rights Group CEO Jim Killock, who called the bill a “mess”, arguing that tweet that it “threatens the implementation of widespread monitoring and the restriction of legitimate speech.”

But in a BBC response, children’s charity NSPCC said passing laws to protect minors online remains “crucial” and “vital”, adding that “This legislation should be the cornerstone of any government’s responsibility to keep the most vulnerable in our society safe.”

The government’s previously failed plans to introduce mandatory age verification for accessing pornographic websites (starting with the Digital Economy Act 2017) – which were excluded in 2019after a series of delays revived in the Internet Safety Actwhich means that some provisions of the bill date back five years but have not yet become law.

Others date from a few days earlier, when the government arrived with a steady stream of amendments and additions — which critics say is also a sign of the bill’s incoherent mess.

A new delay in legislation caused by a change in Tory leader – and possibly a change in government if an election is called earlier than expected – could further stall progress.

Remarks by one of the contenders for leadership, Kemi Badenoch, criticizing the legislation, including in her acceptance speech when she said that the government “should not legislate because of offended feelings”; and in subsequent comments Twitter yesterday, when she seemed to offer to support a total rejection of the bill, calling it “a state not fit to become law” – quickly sparked an internecine strife with Nadine Dorris, the current (but perhaps briefly) state sectarian in the DCMS. response tweet in Badenoch to ask her for receipts confirming the claim.

Damian Collins, who had just taken over as DCMS Secretary of Technology and the Digital Economy — as a result of Johnson’s need to fill gaps in public office following the massive resignations that preceded his own — also tweeted defiantly refute Badenoch. His brief assignment with the department includes introducing the Internet Security Bill.

“This is completely wrong,” Collins said in a directed tweet, before forcing her to defend her contention that the bill requires legal words to be removed. He further argued, to the contrary, that the bill for the first time allows the government to “set internet safety standards based on our laws,” before adding, “Why do you want to stop this.”

Although Badenoch has not (yet) provided any references to support her critique of the bill, tech industry watchers and experts in IT law and policy have been quick to offer a few concrete examples to fill the void…

While the dispute doesn’t make the government look united, Badenoch, a relatively unknown man who comes from the right wing of the Tory party, is thought to have a slim chance of winning the leadership contest.

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is still seen as the leader, but Commerce Secretary Penny Mordaunt has gained the most momentum since yesterday’s Tory vote – with 67 supporters to Sunak’s 88 – and she (currently) appears to have the best chance of capturing the crucial second-place slot. .

However, there are still a few ballots to cut the field.

Only the top two candidates will be nominated among the broader Conservative Party for a final vote to decide who becomes leader and prime minister. This person is expected to take up his post by early September.

Neither Sunak nor Mordaunt have focused on attacking the internet safety bill – until now – in their leadership campaigns.

Indeed, Collins, who remains a staunch supporter of the bill, supported Mordaunt. And in fresh tweetposted in the last few minutes, he says he has received confirmation from the Commerce Secretary that if she becomes prime minister, she will “keep” working on the bill.

Sunak’s position on the internet security bill is less clear, but he was in the cabinet when the bill was introduced in Parliament, so he worked collectively to get it passed along with his (then) cabinet colleagues (including Dorris, the bill’s main supporter). Thus, he doesn’t look like an obvious candidate to make gutting legislation his priority if he wins.

His welcome speech to the leadership also mentioned the problem of disproportionate abuse of women and girls, and strengthening the protection of women and girls was the stated goal of the bill (whether it will be implemented is another question). Hence, for example, adding new law against cyberware which the government announced in March.

In any case, if the race for leadership ends in a run between Sunak and Mordaunt, polls among members of the Conservative Party show that she will easily oust the former chancellor.

While Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who came third with 50 votes in the latest MPs vote – meaning she could also have a chance of making it to the bottom two – got the backing of Dorris (very public). Truss was also in Cabinet when the bill was introduced.

So reports of the death of the internet safety bill may be premature.

Also, given how many parties support the security law, any prime minister who decides to abandon the plan entirely will not face a lack of parliamentary criticism, nor risk voter anger if they are perceived as untenable in regards to children. security — which can also make the next leader, whoever he is, think.

For now, though, the bloated “kitchen sink” law is another casualty of the post-Brexit chaos that has seen the third Conservative prime minister drown in six years.

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