Online Safety Act passes into law but with phased entry into force

The Online Safety Bill was agreed by Parliament on 19 September, 18 months after its first reading,(1) with Royal Assent on 26 October.(2) By Jack Higgins and Rob Sumroy of Slaughter and May.

The Online Safety Act (OSA), which imposes a host of new duties on in-scope online services will, according to the government, “make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.(3) But the Act has been proven particularly divisive during its long passage. Criticised for being “complex and incoherent”(4) and excessive in length, civil liberties groups have argued the Act is a threat to freedom of expression and privacy.(5) The NSPCC, on the other hand, believes the OSA marks a “new era for children’s safety online”.(6)

Unsurprisingly, such scrutiny led to the Bill evolving considerably over time. Most notably, the government shelved plans to criminalise “harmful” communications, and to require tech companies to address “legal but harmful” content for adults.(7) Notwithstanding this, the Bill stood at over three hundred pages, and ­significant questions remain as to how workable it will be in practice.

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