Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has called on the Government to strengthen their draft Online Safety Bill, to protect all internet users from online harms. Mrs. Lockhart, who throughout her political career has been subjected to horrific abuse from online trolls, told Parliament that whilst freedom of speech must be protected, that which was illegal offline must also be illegal online.
Carla Lockhart said:
“In this digital age it is overdue that robust legislation is in place, protecting users online from that which is illegal and can cause extreme harm. Whilst imperfect this Bill goes some way to addressing some of the concerns previously raised in this House.
It has also provoked debate around acceptable use of online platforms and the balance between freedom of speech and online protections.
It is one thing to make sure that behaviour that is illegal offline is also stopped online. The level of abuse I have received at times on social media would certainly be a matter for the police if it happened in person. So, it is wrong that people can get away with it online. Social media platforms must do more to protect their users.
However, there are dangers to our right to free speech around regulating content that is legal but deemed harmful to adults. We need to be wary that this Bill does not become a charter for censorship, of perfectly legitimate views, whether that be a political opinion, expression of a religious belief, or a view on the environment for example. We are handing a lot of power to private companies, and we need to ensure the protections are there to ensure that power is not abused to shut down opinion and debate.
Of course we must also ensure that this legislation is strong enough to protect children and young people from extreme harm and danger in accessing pornography. In this area, we need strong age-verification provision, we need to enable the regulator OFCOM to act against multiple sites at the one time, and we need to impose a duty on ISPs to remove illegal content, and block access within the UK regardless of where that site is hosted across the world.
Through working with colleagues and charities we have made significant improvements in this Bill already, but we still have some way to go before it is fit for purpose in meeting the Government’s own objective to make the UK the safest place to use the internet. As the Bill goes through the Parliamentary process I am confident we can make the Bill more robust, and a more effective piece of legislation.”