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Communications and Digital Committee publishes report on freedom of expression online

22 July 2021

The Communications and Digital Committee publishes its report 'Freedom for all? Freedom of expression in the digital age'. 

Main finding

The Committee says that the Government’s plans to address ‘legal but harmful’ online content threaten freedom of speech and would be ineffective. Instead, existing laws should be enforced properly and any serious harms not already illegal should be criminalised. 

The Committee welcomes Online Safety Bill proposals to oblige digital platforms to remove illegal content and protect children from harm but warns that the draft legislation is “flawed” in relation to keeping children off porn sites and says that platforms must ensure they do not over-remove content. 

Chair's comments

Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Chair of the committee says:

“If the government believes that a type of content is sufficiently harmful, it should be criminalised. 

 “We would expect this to include, for example, any of the vile racist abuse directed at members of the England football team which isn’t already illegal. It has no place in our society and the full force of the law must be brought down on the perpetrators urgently. 

 “The right to speak your mind is the hallmark of a free society and a right long treasured in Britain but it isn’t an unfettered right. 

 “The rights and preferences of individuals must be at the heart of a new, joined-up regulatory approach, bringing together competition policy, data, design, law enforcement and the protection of children. 

 “Britain can be a world leader, setting standards to which other countries can aspire. We must get this right.” 

Lord Gilbert adds:

“The benefits of freedom of expression online mustn’t be curtailed by companies such as Facebook and Google, too often guided by their commercial and political interests than the rights and wellbeing of their users.

“People have little choice but to use these platforms because of the lack of competition. Tougher regulation is long overdue and the government must urgently give the Digital Markets Unit the powers it needs to end these companies’ stranglehold.”

Further information