Tech leaders face jail under new UK online bill | Economic news

By KELVIN CHAN, AP Business Writer

LONDON (AP) — Tech bosses face criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with proposed UK rules to keep people safe online, the British government said Thursday as it unveiled the bill. in Parliament.

The ambitious but controversial online safety bill would give regulators sweeping powers to crack down on digital and social media companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Authorities in the UK are at the forefront of a global movement to limit the power of tech platforms and make them more accountable for harmful material such as child sexual abuse, racist content, bullying, fraud and other harmful material proliferating on their platforms. Similar efforts are underway in the European Union and the United States.

As the internet has transformed people’s lives, “tech companies have not been held accountable when harm, abuse and criminal behavior has been unleashed on their platforms,” ​​said UK Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries , in a press release. “If we don’t act, we risk sacrificing the well-being and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of uncontrolled algorithms.”

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The bill is being debated in parliament, where it could be amended before lawmakers vote to approve it as law.

The government has toughened up the legislation since it was first drafted after a committee of lawmakers recommended improvements. Changes include giving users more power to block anonymous trolls, requiring porn sites to verify that users are 18 or older, and cyberflashing – or sending unsolicited graphic images – a criminal offence.

Tech executives would be criminally liable two months after the law takes effect, instead of two years after as proposed in the original draft. Companies could be fined up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover for violations.

There is also a wider range of criminal offenses that can result in prison terms of up to two years in the updated draft.

Initially, tech executives risked jail time for failing to quickly provide regulators with the accurate information needed to assess whether their companies were complying with the rules.

Now they would also face the removal, destruction or alteration of requested information or failure to cooperate with regulators, who would have the power to enter the premises of a technology company to inspect data and information. equipment and interview employees.

Tech companies should proactively remove illegal content involving revenge pornography, hate crimes, fraud, drug or weapons advertisements, promoting or assisting suicide, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation, in addition to the material originally offered on terrorism and child sexual abuse.

The government said it would outline the categories of harmful but legal material that the biggest online platforms such as Google and Facebook should tackle, instead of leaving it to the “whim of internet executives”.

This aims to address the concerns of digital activists who feared the law would restrict freedom of speech and expression because companies would be overzealous in removing content that upsets or offends people but are not prohibited.

Follow Kelvin Chan on Twitter.

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