The Daily Telegraph: Online harms laws in danger of being watered down in US trade talks, Government warned

The Daily Telegraph: Online harms laws in danger of being watered down in US trade talks, Government warned

Article by Mike Wright for the Daily Telegraph - published 12 January 2021

Online harms laws are at risk of being watered down in US trade negotiations, two former culture secretaries have warned the Government.

Jeremy Wright and Karen Bradley have put their names to a letter calling on Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, to give assurances that the final deal will not give US tech giants immunity from UK online regulations such as the Duty of Care Bill.

The letter, seen by The Telegraph, has been prompted by fears that clauses could be inserted into the treaty giving large tech companies protections in the UK that they enjoy under liberal US regulations.

Previous US trade deals with countries such as Japan and Mexico have given American tech firms protections abroad such as Section 230 of America's Communications Decency Act, which removes liability from social media companies for what users post on their sites.

The letter, also signed by Damian Collins, a former chairman of the culture select committee, and senior peer Baroness Kidron, warned that similar provisions in a UK deal could "undermine the safety and sovereignty of protections for UK citizens online".

It says: "Including Section 230 in the trade deal will result in a flood of litigation from US tech against any child protection regulation from [the Information Commissioner] and Ofcom, ultimately watering down and delaying any of the Government's plans to improve children's safety online."

The call comes a week after the Government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords over an amendment to the trade bill, introduced by Baroness Kidron, preventing UK negotiators from signing up to treaty provisions giving protections to US tech giants. The amendment still needs to be passed by the Commons to become binding.

The letter suggests the Government could face a similar rebellion over the amendment in the Commons if it does not ease MPs' fears over the threat to online harms protections.

Ministers have promised to improve child safeguards online through a series of laws such as the forthcoming Online Harms Bill, which will impose a duty of care on tech companies to protect vulnerable users, a measure for which The Telegraph has campaigned since 2018.

Tech giants are also facing new regulations over the use of childrens' data when the Age Appropriate Design Code comes into force later this year.

A Government spokesman said: "This Government stands by its online harms commitment and data protection standards, and nothing in the US trade deal will affect that.

"The UK continues to ensure that internet users, including children, are safeguarded from emerging online harms and is committed to maintaining high standards of protection for personal data, including when it is transferred across borders. We will never do a deal that is bad for the UK."

Copyright 2021 Damian Collins. All rights reserved

Promoted by Stephen James for and on behalf of Damian Collins, both of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association both at 4 West Cliff Gardens, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1SP


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