The UK government has published its Online Harms White Paper, aiming to position the UK as leading regulation of social media. We recognise that there are serious issues that do need attention – such as protecting journalists and writers whose free speech can be chilled by online bullying – but much in the White Paper puts freedom of expression at risk.
The consultation aims to gather views on various aspects of the government’s plans for regulation and tackling online harms, including:
- the online services in scope of the regulatory framework;
- options for appointing an independent regulatory body to implement, oversee and enforce the new regulatory framework;
- the enforcement powers of an independent regulatory body;
- potential redress mechanisms for online users; and
- measures to ensure regulation is targeted and proportionate for industry.
English PEN is working with other organisations concerned with freedom of expression, including ARTICLE 19, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and Open Rights Group, to examine and respond to the proposals.
We have particular concerns that the White Paper proposes to regulate literally the entire internet, and censor anything non-compliant. This extends to blogs, file services, hosting platforms, cloud computing; nothing is out of scope. Of further concern, is the fact that there are a number of undefined ‘harms’ with no sense of scope or evidence thresholds to establish a need for action. We believe that the White Paper in its current form could lead to the lawful speech of millions of people being monitored, regulated and censored.