UK to force tech companies to act faster against criminal content

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LONDON, Feb 4 (Reuters) – The British government said on Friday it would add to the list of criminal content tech companies will have to actively combat under a new law or face fines of up to 10% of their global turnover.

Under previous plans for the legislation, search engines, social media and video-sharing platforms were already to be required to prioritize measures to reduce the risk of users coming across material about terrorism or child sexual abuse.

As part of the broader proposals, this list will be expanded to cover sexual images posted without participants’ consent, hate crimes, fraud, drug trafficking, illegal arms sales, promotion of suicide, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

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Current laws generally only require technology companies such as the owners of Google (GOOGL.O) or Facebook (FB.O) to take down such material if they receive a complaint.

“Companies must continue to take responsibility for stopping harmful content on their platforms. These new measures will make it easier and faster to crack down on offenders and hold social media companies to account,” the minister said. ‘Interior, Priti Patel.

The new legislation, known as the Online Safety Bill, will be enforced by communications regulator Ofcom, which will have the power to require UK internet providers to block access to offending websites, as well as to impose fines on the operators of the websites.

The bill was considered by parliamentary committees in 2021 and is expected to be put to parliament for a vote this year.

Other parts of the bill criminalize online threats of serious harm and messages intended to cause serious distress that the government said were difficult to prosecute under existing laws prohibiting threatening, grossly offensive or obscene communications.

Existing legislation prohibiting the consensual exchange of sexual images online, messages that unintentionally cause harm or that offend but do not cause harm would be repealed.

“Criminal law should target those who specifically intend to cause harm, while allowing people to share contested and controversial ideas in good faith,” said Penney Lewis, a law professor who advised the changes.

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Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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