Law bolstered in bid to crack down on ‘despicable’ online criminals

Tech firms could be fined or even be blocked from being accessible in the UK if they do not tackle criminal content.

Law bolstered in bid to crack down on ‘despicable’ online criminals iStock

The law is to be strengthened in a bid to crack down on “despicable criminals” who exploit and abuse people online.

Measures under the Online Safety Bill include setting out a list of criminal content to make it clear to tech firms what must be removed from their platforms as a priority.

The dealing of drugs and weapons, people smuggling, revenge porn, fraud, promoting suicide, and inciting or controlling prostitution for gain are among the offences listed.

Previously, firms would have been forced to take such content down after it had been reported to them by users but now they must be proactive and prevent people from being exposed in the first place.

Terrorism and child sexual abuse and exploitation are already included in the list.

In a strong statement to tech firms, as part of the changes, Ofcom will be able to issue fines of up to 10% of annual worldwide turnover to non-compliant sites or block them from being accessible in the UK.

New criminal offences will also be added to the Bill in an effort to tackle domestic violence and threats to rape and kill.

Digital secretary Nadine Dorries insisted the changes will allow the UK Government to bring the “full weight of the law” against those who “use the internet as a weapon to ruin people’s lives”.

“This government said it would legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while enshrining free speech, and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” said Dorries.

“Our world leading bill will protect children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online.

“We are listening to MPs, charities and campaigners who have wanted us to strengthen the legislation, and today’s changes mean we will be able to bring the full weight of the law against those who use the internet as a weapon to ruin people’s lives and do so quicker and more effectively.”

Home secretary Priti Patel warned tech firms that they must take responsibility for stopping harmful material.

“The internet cannot be a safe haven for despicable criminals to exploit and abuse people online,” she said.

“Companies must continue to take responsibility for stopping harmful material on their platforms.

“These new measures will make it easier and quicker to crack down on offenders and hold social media companies to account.”