Even think tanks closely linked to the UK’s Conservative government are now criticizing the Online Safety Bill, with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) describing it today as “a significant threat to the freedom of expression, privacy and innovation”.
The IEA, which tends to side with free-market conservatives, today said the controversial legislation needed an independent reviewer to stop it (ironically) harming people using the internet in Britain. Brittany.
Comparing it to the existing position of the government’s terrorism law reviewer, the IEA argued in a report titled “In Harm’s Way” that an online harms reviewer could monitor social media censorship orders. Ofcom as well as scrutinizing new codes of conduct and regulatory instruments before they are enacted by Parliament.
“The reviewer should have both expertise and a clear mandate to promote freedom of expression, privacy and innovation, and therefore be well placed to engage formally and informally with Ofcom to give advice on matters within the remit of the reviewer,” the IEA report said.
Such a position would hold hands with Ofcom, the government’s preferred web regulator, and potentially civil servants in the Department for Digital, Culture, Ministry and Sport.
However, the creation of such a position could backfire on the IEA’s intentions to create a free speech czar. The post of “independent” examiner of terrorism legislation was created by Tony Blair’s New Labor in 2001. Despite its name, the government and examiners apparently used it as a testing ground to test the lawyers’ political loyalty to the government before promoting them.
Current critic Jonathan Hall QC said in a 2020 speech that safeguards around forced decryption laws should be watered down to help police. It continued a theme set by the previous reviewer, Max Hill QC.
In 2017, Hill strongly agreed with the government that encryption should be denied to anonymous internet users. Coincidentally, he was promoted to Director of Public Prosecutions the following year. Previous reviewers included Alex Carlile and David Anderson, who now both sit in the House of Lords.
It’s not hard to see how the IEA’s proposed “independent reviewer” could also end up agreeing with the powers that be. With the kind of powers proposed by the think tank, a censored reviewer could do even more harm than the online safety bill.
Last week the Internet Society criticized the bill, while last year MPs tasked with reviewing it instead issued a “manifesto” calling for more internet censorship.
The government’s attempts to create a “security technology” sector based on the general principles of the Online Safety Bill have been uneven, with one company on the verge of breaching the criminal law.
The IEA report can be read on its website. ®