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Online Safety Bill: Progress through Parliament & Ofcom Implementation

Following detailed line by line examinations from April to June, the Online Safety Bill has passed through the committee stage of the House of Lords. At the same time, Ofcom has provided an update on its preparations for regulating compliance with the bill.

Progress through Parliament

Amendments were made on topics including:

  • Protecting children from content promoting suicide, self-harm or eating disorders
  • Age verification or estimation measures to prevent children from accessing pornography
  • Improving coroners’ and bereaved parents’ access to data from social media platforms
  • Updates to Ofcom’s obligations and powers

The bill is now heading for the House of Lords report stage, currently scheduled to take place on the 6, 10, 12 and 17 July. The report stage will give the Lords an additional opportunity to examine and make amendments to the Bill. It is the penultimate step in the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords, after which the third reading will take place.

The Bill will then go back to the House of Commons for consideration. Any further amendments made by the Commons at this stage will be sent to the Lords, who may agree, disagree or make alternative proposals. There may be some back-and-forth (“ping pong”) until the Houses can agree the exact wording of the Bill and Royal Assent can be given. Alternatively, if the two Houses cannot reach agreement, the Bill may fail – but this would be an exceptional occurrence.

Ofcom Implementation

In June, Ofcom provided an update on how they plan to regulate online safety and updated their roadmap. As Royal Assent is now expected in the autumn of 2023, some timings in the phased plan have changed, as outlined below:

Phase 1 – Illegal harms duties

Shortly after the bill is in force and Ofcom’s powers have commenced, the first draft codes of practice setting out steps that regulated services can take to mitigate the risk of illegal harm will be published. Ofcom also plan to publish: (i) enforcement guidelines; (ii) a register of illegal content risks; and (ii) guidance on conducting risk assessments and record keeping.

Phase 2 – child safety and pornography

Online pornography services and other stakeholders will be able to respond to the draft guidance on age assurance from autumn 2023. Responses from regulated services (and interested groups) to the draft codes of practice relating to protection of children will take place in spring 2024. At this stage, Ofcom will consult on: (i) a register of risks and risk profiles relating to harms to children; and (ii) draft risk assessment guidance focusing on children’s harms.

Phase 3 – transparency, user empowerment, and other duties on categorised platforms

The largest user to user platforms will be designated Category 1 and made subject to the most onerous obligations. Other services may be designated category 2A (search services) or category 2B (lower risk user-to-user services) depending on criteria to be set out in secondary legislation. 

Ofcom’s final phase focusses on the additional requirements that these categories of services will be subject to including: (i) producing transparency reports; (ii) providing user empowerment tools; (iii) operating in line with their terms of service; (iv) protecting certain types of journalistic content; and (v) preventing fraudulent advertising. Ofcom will advise the UK Government on the criteria for these categories based on industry and stakeholder feedback following a call for evidence in summer 2023 (with Ofcom’s evidence to be sent to the Government in spring 2024).


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