Published on 20/06/2023
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  • The Online Safety Bill aims to establish a regulatory framework for online services
  • The report co-edited and co-authored by Dr Edina Harbinja from Aston Law School focuses on important developments, particularly during the bill's Committee Stage in the House of Lords
  • It covers key discussions on the bill's scope and the challenges it poses in balancing competing interests such as child protection.

An Aston University expert in media and privacy law has contributed to a comprehensive policy report around the ongoing developments and discussions surrounding the proposed Online Safety Bill.

Making 'Digital Streets' Safe? Progress on the Online Safety Bill was produced by Aston Law School’s Dr Edina Harbinja and Dr Nora Ni Loideain (University of London).

The Online Safety Bill, currently under review in the House of Lords, aims to establish a regulatory framework for online services, including major international companies such as Facebook (Meta) and Google (Alphabet). 

The bill's objectives are to make Britain the best place in the world to set up and run a digital business while ensuring the safety of individuals online.

In March 2023, Aston University, in collaboration with the Information Law & Policy Centre (ILPC) at the University of London, hosted a two-day international conference that brought together experts from academia, policymaking and civil society. The conference critically examined and discussed recent developments concerning the proposed Online Safety Bill, addressing regulation, policymaking and governance in the UK and internationally.

The conference featured a roundtable discussion co-hosted by Lord Colville of Culross, who has been involved with the bill since 2017 as a member of the Lords Communications and Digital Committee. Lord Colville has actively contributed amendments to protect free speech and reduce the Secretary of State's powers to direct Ofcom.

The new report focuses on important developments in 2023, particularly during the bill's Committee Stage in the House of Lords. It covers key discussions on the bill's scope and the challenges it poses in balancing competing interests such as child protection, free speech, illegal content, and encryption. Experts expressed concerns that the bill's current state is cumbersome and inconsistent, potentially undermining safety and digital rights.

Dr Edina Harbinja, a reader in media/privacy law at Aston Law School and co-editor of the report, said:

“This policy report provides a valuable analysis of the progress made on the Online Safety Bill and the challenges that lie ahead. 

“It offers insights from experts across various fields and contributes to the ongoing discussions on achieving a safe online environment while preserving fundamental rights.

“The policy report provides an overview of the Online Safety Bill, tracing its evolution from the government's White Paper on "Online Harms" released in April 2019. It highlights significant changes in the bill's scope and the decision to task Ofcom, an existing regulator for communications, with implementing and enforcing the Online Safety Bill.

“Furthermore, the report addresses the oversight and implementation of the Online Safety Bill. Experts emphasise the need for a robust oversight mechanism and a balance of powers to ensure effective regulation. Recommendations include setting up a Joint Committee of Parliament to scrutinise digital regulation and ensuring parliamentary oversight of Ofcom.”

You can read the full policy report here.

Notes to Editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University is ranked 22nd in the UK in the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

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