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‘Land of the lawless’: UK politicians urge government to enforce stricter rules on Big Tech

Two teenagers watch a chat with friends on their smartphone

Ute Grabowsky | Photothek | Getty Images

LONDON — A group of British lawmakers said Tuesday that “major changes” need to be made to the U.K.’s upcoming Online Safety Bill.

The draft bill is a proposed new piece of legislation that’s designed to make the internet a safer place for people in the U.K.

However, some lawmakers are concerned that the current proposals don’t go far enough.

In a report published Tuesday, the U.K. Parliament’s joint committee on the draft bill said more offences should be brought within the scope of the proposed law.

“We need to call time on the Wild West online,” said Damian Collins, a lawmaker and chair of the committee, in a statement. “What’s illegal offline should be regulated online.”

“For too long, Big Tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless,” he added. “A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.”

The committee is calling for a plethora of online activities to be outlawed including the promotion of self-harm online, deepfake pornography (AI-generated porn) and targeting epilepsy sufferers with flashing images online.

TV and radio regulator Ofcom was put in charge of regulating the internet in the U.K. in February.

The committee said the government should give Ofcom more powers to investigate, audit and fine Big Tech, adding that the regulator should also be able to set the standards by which Big Tech will be held accountable.

“The era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end,” said Collins. “The companies are clearly responsible for services they have designed and profit from, and need to be held to account for the decisions they make.”

Elsewhere in the U.K., the Competition and Markets Authority and the Information Commissioner’s Office also have the ability to impose fines and penalties on technology companies.

Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok have all been criticized by lawmakers in the U.K. and other parts of the world for allowing harmful content to be shared on their platforms. They say they’re doing their best to remove it, but many lawmakers aren’t satisfied.

During the U.K. inquiry, MPs and peers heard from victims of online harms including ex-Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand and TV presenter Martin Lewis. The inquiry also involved Facebook whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang.

The bill is set to be put to Parliament for approval in 2022.

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