Technical officials will face criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with proposed British rules to ensure they are safe online, the UK government said on Thursday it had unveiled a draft law in Parliament.
The ambitious but controversial online security bill will give regulators broad powers to crack down on digital and social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and TickTock.
Authorities in the United Kingdom are at the forefront of a global movement to rein in the power of technology platforms and hold them more accountable for harmful elements such as child sexual abuse, racist content, hooliganism, fraud and other harmful elements. Similar efforts are being made in the European Union and the United States.
Although the Internet has changed people’s lives, “technology companies have not been held accountable when they cause damage, abuse and criminal behavior on their platforms,” UK Digital Secretary Nadine Doris said in a statement. “If we fail to work, we risk sacrificing the well-being and innocence of countless generations of children for the power of algorithms.”
The bill faces debate in Parliament, where it could be amended before lawmakers vote to approve it as law.
The government has tightened the law since it was first written after a committee of lawmakers recommended improvements. The changes include giving users more power to block anonymous trolls, requiring porn sites to verify users 18 or older, and cyber-flashing – or sending unwanted graphic images to someone – is a criminal offense.
Technology executives will be criminally liable two months after the law takes effect, instead of the two years proposed in the original draft. Violations could result in companies being fined up to 10 percent of their annual global revenue.
The updated draft contains a wider range of criminal offenses that could result in up to two years in prison.
Initially, technology executives faced imprisonment for failing to quickly provide accurate information to regulators to assess whether their companies were complying with the rules.
Now, they will also face repression, destruction or alteration of requested information or non-cooperation with regulators who have the ability to enter the premises of a technology company to inspect information and equipment and interview employees.
Technical agencies must actively remove illegal content on topics such as revenge porn, hate crime, forgery, drug or weapons advertising, suicide promotion or assistance, human trafficking and sexual exploitation, original proposed terrorism and child sexual abuse.
The government says it will outline harmful but legal elements sections that have to deal with the largest online platforms, such as Google and Facebook, rather than leave it to the “will of Internet executives”.
It aims to address the concerns of digital activists who are concerned that the law would curtail freedom of speech and expression because companies would be keen to remove content that annoys or annoys people but is not prohibited.