August 10, 2022

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Duty of care victory prevents trade deals watering down laws to protect children

Embargoed to 0001 Thursday January 31 File photo dated 03/01/18 of social media app icons, as a report by MPs has concluded social media companies must be subject to a "legal duty of care" to protect the health and well-being of younger users of their sites. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday January 31, 2019. See PA story TECHNOLOGY Care. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire -  Yui Mok/PA Wire
Embargoed to 0001 Thursday January 31 File photo dated 03/01/18 of social media app icons, as a report by MPs has concluded social media companies must be subject to a “legal duty of care” to protect the health and well-being of younger users of their sites. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday January 31, 2019. See PA story TECHNOLOGY Care. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire – Yui Mok/PA Wire

Duty of care laws to safeguard children against online harms will be protected from any watering down in a US-UK trade deal, after the Government was defeated in the Lords.

An amendment by child rights campaigner and filmmaker Baroness Kidron ring fencing UK duty of care laws from trade discussions was passed by 340 votes to 248.

It followed fears that the US could use trade talks as a bartering tool to secure concessions that protect the US-based tech giants from the laws already passed and planned future legislation on online harms.

The US has previously used its trade deals effectively to carry over some of their own regulations into other countries’ laws, including section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This absolves social media platforms from responsibility as publishers of content from another provider.

Baroness Kidron, chair of the 5Rights, which campaigns to protect children, said: “We have worked too hard in the UK to allow children’s online protection to be in the hands of trade negotiators. 

 Mcc0092092 Baroness Kidron, Beeban Tania Kidron in her offices, North London. 21st October 2019 - David Rose for the Telegraph
Mcc0092092 Baroness Kidron, Beeban Tania Kidron in her offices, North London. 21st October 2019 – David Rose for the Telegraph

“Members of the House of Lords from all sides of the political spectrum have asked the Government to take children off the table.

“It is imperative that US tech firms do not hijack trade deals to impose their commercial priorities on the UK. 

“The UK Parliament has reaffirmed its commitment to putting children and their safety online first, above the demands of the online services which grab children’s data and put them at risk.”

The Age Appropriate Design Code, which requires tech firms to protect children from content inappropriate to their age, and the allied Data Protection Act safeguarding children’s data, have already been passed into law.

The Government’s proposed new Duty of Care laws to combat online harms threatens multi-billion pound fines for social media giants if they fail to take action to remove child abuse, terrorist, or self-harm content on their sites.

The Duty of Care bill, due to be presented to Parliament within the next few months, creates a regulator in Ofcom with powers also to shut down tech firms found guilty of repeated breaches of the rules.