Govt response to Online Harms consultation threatens freedom of speech and innovation, says IEA expert

12 Feb 2020 02:07 PM

The IEA’s Head of Regulatory Affairs Victoria Hewson commented on the government’s initial response to the public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper 

“At a time when the Chancellor is challenging businesses to come up with ways of cutting red tape, it is disappointing to see other government departments intent on creating it.

“Everyone wants children and vulnerable people to be safe and terrorism to be tackled but handing power over what people are allowed to say and see online to a regulator is not a proportionate way to achieve this.

“The assertion that this development will “provide the certainty that business needs to flourish and innovate” is dubious. As we have seen with other recent interventions in the digital sector like the GDPR, legislators massively underestimated the costs of implementation and the impact on competition and innovation has been serious. These measures will require guidance and rule making from a regulator undertaking new responsibilities, which is likely to create uncertainty, causing platforms to adopt risk-averse procedures and crack down on legal content.

“A vague duty on Ofcom to “pay due regard to safeguarding free speech” offers little consolation, and giving such powers to an independent regulator, with no clarity as to how its decisions can be appealed and challenged, threatens fundamental rights and the rule of law.

“The government is getting ahead of themselves by suggesting who the regulator will be before they have published the full consultation response on the substance of the proposed law. This disjointed approach does not inspire confidence that a rigourous process is being followed.”

Notes to editors:

For media enquiries please contact Emily Carver, Media Manager | 07715 942 731

For further reading from Victoria on the Online Harms White Paper, click here.

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems and seeks to provide analysis in order to improve the public understanding of economics.

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