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Airmic urges government to provide clarity on online harms proposals

Association submits formal response to consultation

Airmic has urged the government to offer clarity on the scope of its proposed legislation to establish a new duty of care for online users.

Responding to the government's white paper, Online Harms, the association lent its support to the broad objectives set out in the proposals, but said the lack of clarity on which companies will be affected and what constitutes harm, leaves many companies facing uncertainty. It also warned that it leaves the legislation vulnerable to "mission creep" and "unintended consequences".

In its summary note, Airmic said: "We support establishing in law a new duty of care towards users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. We believe that the scope in terms of what is harmful and who decides, the definition of data itself, the definition of language, and the definition of in-scope companies, all require further clarification."

 It went on to note that the issue of which companies are in scope is of particular concern to members: "The definitions in the White Paper are very broad, and our members are worried that they will find themselves in-scope even when they are not in the sectors that the White Paper is primarily directed at - this includes which companies will be expected to help pay for the day to day operations of the regulator."

In April, the government announced a consultation on the white paper which sets out the government's plans for a world-leading package of online safety measures aimed at protecting society and individuals. Key recommendations include:

  • A new statutory duty of care for companies to take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services;
  • An independent regulator with a suite of enforcement powers to oversee and enforce compliance with the duty of care. The regulator could have the power to levy substantial fines on companies and impose liability on individual members of senior management.

After consultation with its members and relevant advisors, Airmic submitted its formal response in July.