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Online Safety Bill: powering-up Ofcom’s investigation and enforcement powers

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Cross-Border White Collar Crime and Investigations Review

The Online Safety Bill has been placed before the UK Parliament for legislative scrutiny.  It introduces duties of care that relevant companies will need to comply with in relation to content posted on to their sites (which could be either legal or illegal in nature).  It also grants Ofcom powers to investigate breaches of the new requirements. 

The objective of the Bill is to promote online safety in the UK.  It will apply to “user-to-user” and “search” services that have links to the UK.  This will require companies to take steps to comply with their obligations under the legislation that will enter into force and may require changes to companies’ systems and controls to ensure adherence.

Investigations implications

The Bill grants Ofcom powers to investigate breaches of the new requirements, which includes powers to interview and require information as part of the investigation. Importantly, Ofcom will have powers to impose significant penalties on relevant companies for breaches of the regime. Criminal offences may also apply to the companies who fail to comply with Ofcom requests.  

The Bill also introduces senior manager accountability into the regime that may lead to personal, criminal liability for senior managers where they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent their company from committing an “information offence”.  The information offences set out in the Bill generally relate to non-compliance with Ofcom’s information gathering powers (interviews, information requirements, audit notices etc.).

We expect these powers to significantly increase both the scope and impact of Ofcom's investigation and enforcement activities.  For more detail on the Online Safety Bill, see our briefing: A whole new world online: The UK government introduces the Online Safety Bill to Parliament.