Cyber legislation to allow a regulator to block apps in the UK

Hazel Lifa Avatar

Online legislation is on everyone’s mind just 2 weeks after South Africa’s bill was proposed, UK’s Ofcom is set to gain the authority to block access to online services that are deemed to not be doing enough to protect children and other users.

Cyber legislation trend

The measure is to be added to the UK government’s Online Harms Bill. The proposed law doesn’t impose criminal prosecutions like the South African bill does. The bill will give Ofcom the power to fine tech giants like Facebook billions of pounds and demand them to publish a detailed review of what methods are being used to deal with posts that are harmful but not illegal.

In line with the SA Cybercrimes Bill, Online Harms Bill is aiming at the cyber activities that lie in the grey area that isn’t illegal but cause harm like revenge porn. The UK bill is looking to make the internet a safer place for children as well.

The Online Harms Bill will allow Ofcom to demand tech firms strongly address child abuse imagery shared via encrypted messages. Even if the apps in question are designed to keep the user’s messages inaccessible even to their makers. The wording in the terms implies that Whatsapp once again is in the line of fire as encryption of messages is a key feature of the app.

Who does the law apply to?

The UK bill would apply to any company whose app has user-generated content available to the UK audience. Subject to the bill would be chat apps, online marketplaces, dating services, search engines and even video games.
There will be exceptions like small business’s product review slots and news publishers’ comments sections.

Under the proposed bill, Ofcom would be able to fine companies up to 10% of their annual global turnover or £18m if they refused to cooperate or to satisfy its concerns about posts that were legal but still harmful.

With more and more nations addressing cyber legislations it will be interesting to see which bills are successes and how the law will navigate cyberspace. The cyber laws are needed but the fact is that regulating technology is very difficult. While technology companies spend large sums of money lobbying and gaining popularity, lawmaking is complicated and takes time.

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