The online harms bill misses the point – Michael Drury and Julian Hayes write for The Times

The online harms bill misses the point – Michael Drury and Julian Hayes write for The Times

BCL partners Michael Drury and Julian Hayes‘s article ‘The online harms bill misses the point’ has been published by The Times.

Here’s an extract from the article:

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted our almost complete reliance on the Internet, whether keeping business wheels turning, educating our children or contacting friends and family.

But the darker side of this digital dependency has been an exponential increase in illegal and legal online harms — from child abuse material to anti-vax disinformation and hate speech.

Before the pandemic, the UK launched an online harms white paper in 2019 that raised hopes of a safer digital future. Almost two years on, the government’s much anticipated proposals have finally been published; heavy with soundbites but short on detail, they will disappoint many.

Though impossible to please everyone, the shock-and-awe penalties in the paper — including swingeing fines and last chance saloon threats to target senior management — fail to compensate for notable omissions, particularly on online scams.

With investment frauds, fake product reviews and now coronavirus vaccine swindles rife on the internet, consumer groups and regulators have united in calls for action, with the Financial Conduct Authority earlier this month arguing before MPs on the work and pensions committee for the inclusion of such scams in the scope of online harms regulation. Airy promises to consider future measures will seem to many like a fob-off.

Moreover, solemn promises that the government means business over tackling online harms ignore practical issues and principled debates ahead. When small forum apps such as Parler — which was implicated in the recent violent demonstrations at the US Capitol — are downloaded more than 400,000 times a day, the UK government’s focus instead on giant mainstream social media platforms seems quaint.

Private messaging, long a law enforcement concern, is again under scrutiny for its role in disseminating child sexual exploitation and abuse material. However, the suggestion that service providers could be required to use automated technology to monitor private communications for such material will ring alarm bells for those concerned at striking the right balance with privacy.”


This article was originally published by The Times on 21/01/2021 and you can read the full article on their website.

Michael Drury’s expertise in data collection and surveillance matters by state entities is unparalleled in the United Kingdom. As a former director of legal affairs at GCHQ, the largest of the UK’s security and intelligence agencies, for 14 years; founder member of the Serious Fraud Office; and for the last 10 years a partner in BCL providing advice on national security and criminal investigations to both corporate and individual clients, his breadth of experience both in terms of developing legislation (particularly the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act as the forerunner to the current Investigatory Powers Act 2016) and practical casework gives him unique insights into how the law has developed and the practical consequences that follow. He has already provided advice on the US-UK Bilateral Data Sharing Agreement due to commence this autumn and brings his breadth of knowledge to bear on what is a new departure in a field that is inherently controversial.

Julian Hayes advises companies and individuals in the rapidly developing field of data protection, especially in the context of data breaches and law enforcement investigations, where necessary litigating to ensure that the actions of state authorities are properly constrained. A partner at BCL for four years, he has vast experience of all types of criminal inquiries, including the unlawful obtaining of data and computer misuse offences. He is well-known and highly regarded commentator on cybersecurity and privacy issues. He advises telecommunications operators on their obligations under UK investigatory powers legislation and provides practical guidance on how to handle demands placed upon them, including in establishing systems that work to ensure legal compliance and protection for the operator. He has advised in relation to US-UK Bilateral Data Sharing Agreement and forthcoming UK online harms legislation.

Related articles