The government’s Online Safety Bill would impose legal duties on the big internet service providers to restrict content categorised as “legal but harmful” by Whitehall, using technology to do so.
These provisions have been criticised in a report published by Index on Censorship, A Legal Analysis of the Impact of Online Safety Bill on Freedom of Expression.
The report draws on detailed advice provided by Gavin Millar QC as to whether these provisions, if enacted, will lead to violations of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The advice highlights the inadequacy of the supposed safeguards in the Bill for protection of freedom of expression on the internet.
It notes that it is already well understood that content moderation by ISPs adversely affects certain groups disproportionately. There are well known examples of content relating to LGBTQ sexual health or women’s health being restricted. And content in Arabic or Urdu is more likely to be restricted than English language content. The risks of such unjustifiable outcomes being multiplied if the regime includes this category are obvious. Such outcomes are clearly incompatible with notions of equality, pluralism and tolerance inherent in a democratic society.