Draft Guidelines on Illegal Content Released by UK’s Online Safety Regulator with Child Safety as Top Priority

The UK’s new Internet content regulator, Ofcom, has released the first draft Codes of Practice under the recently enacted Online Safety Act (OSA). The focus is on guiding user-to-user (U2U) services in responding to various forms of illegal content, with an emphasis on protecting children. The proposed measures include restrictions on suggested friends, visibility of child users in connection lists, and limitations on direct messages and location information.

Ofcom, as the online safety regulator, aims to prioritize the safety of children online, addressing issues such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM), terrorism, and fraud. The draft codes provide recommendations for digital services to comply with the legal duty to protect users from illegal content, with potential fines of up to 10% of global annual turnover for violations.

The regulator is taking a tailored approach, suggesting more stringent measures for larger and higher-risk platforms. It emphasizes the importance of assessing and mitigating risks, particularly focusing on priority offenses outlined in the legislation.

While the draft includes various recommendations, Ofcom acknowledges the evolving nature of online safety regulations and plans for regular reviews to adapt to changes and gather more evidence. The guidance covers issues such as content moderation, blocking URLs hosting CSAM, and providing tools for users to block or mute accounts.

Ofcom is cautious in its approach, avoiding a direct impact on end-to-end encryption (E2EE) and proposing techniques like hash matching for CSAM detection only in public communications. The draft codes are open for consultation, with the finalized guidance expected next fall, allowing a generous lead-in period for digital services to adapt to the new regulations. Enforcement will be staggered, with some elements already enforceable, and a reasonable and proportionate approach to compliance timelines.

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