Online Harms White Paper

Department for Digital Culture, Media, and Sport,

1. The Online Harms White Paper set out the government’s ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to grow and start a digital business. It described a new regulatory framework establishing a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of their users online, overseen and enforced by an independent regulator. This will build public trust in the services that these companies are offering, and support a thriving and fast-growing digital sector. The White Paper proposed that regulation be proportionate and risk-based, ensuring companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to tackle harmful content and activity. It also made clear that the framework will protect users’ rights, including freedom of expression online.

2. The government set out the results of the formal consultation and clarified its direction of travel in the Online Harms White Paper - Initial government response, published in February 2020. The initial government response reconfirmed our commitment to the duty of care approach set out in the White Paper and announced a number of further measures to increase proportionality and protect freedom of expression. It also indicated that the government was minded to appoint Ofcom as the regulator. The government has continued to develop its policy proposals since February and has made further, important changes. The full government response confirms that Ofcom will be named as the regulator in legislation, and sets out the intended policy position.

3. The government has taken a deliberately consultative and iterative approach in developing the framework, to ensure regulation that is coherent, proportionate and agile in response to advances in technology. It is part of the government’s overarching, pro-innovation approach to regulating digital technologies, that will address issues arising from digital technology which affect prosperity, security and our democratic values. This is an important step forward in building a safer and more prosperous digital future for everyone.

4. Tackling online harms is a global problem and the government recognises that legislation and regulation in the UK, and elsewhere, forms only part of the response required. The UK, with its strengths in digital innovation, highly respected legal system, business-friendly environment and world-class regulators, has an opportunity to act as a global leader in this space. That is why the government is working closely with many of our international partners to address this shared challenge in order to work towards common approaches to tackling online harms. The development of the online harms regime represents an important step in the UK’s strategy to create a coherent and pro-innovation framework for the governance of digital technologies, and to set the global standard for a risk-based, proportionate regulatory framework.