26 October 2023

How will Ofcom enforce the Online Safety Act?

26 October 2023

Ofcom will publish its first codes of practice and guidance for tech firms on complying with the new Online Safety Act next month.

The communications regulator has said it will look to publish its proposals for enforcing the new rules and guidance for firms on how to comply in three phases beginning in November and running in some cases until the spring of 2025, with each code requiring approval from Parliament.

According to Ofcom’s timetable, it hopes to have the first codes of practice, focused on illegal harms, in force by late 2024.

The Online Safety Act become law in the UK on Thursday, placing new obligations on social media platforms to keep users, and particularly children, safe online.

In documents published online, Ofcom said it would publish its first draft codes and guidance on the new duties around illegal harms on November 9.

It said it would consult on these documents and then publish a statement on its final decisions in autumn 2024, with the codes then sent to the Technology Secretary for approval before being laid before Parliament.

This will be followed by guidance on child safety, pornography and the protection of women and girls.

Ofcom said the child protection duties would be set out in two phases – the first around pornography will come in December, with the draft codes around the protection of children due in spring 2024.

The regulator said it then expects draft guidance around the protection of women and girls by spring 2025, when it will have finalised the child protection codes.

The regulator’s third phase of guidance will focus on transparency, user empowerment and other duties – which will deal with the production of platforms’ transparency reports, empowerment tools to report and filter out content, as well as preventing fraudulent advertising and protecting journalistic content.

Ofcom confirmed it plans to publish draft guidance on transparency by mid-2024.

The regulator will also advise the Government on thresholds for categorising each platform in scope of the new laws, with those in Category 1 – likely to be the largest platforms – required to do the most to protect users.

Ofcom said it hopes to have this register confirmed through secondary legislation by summer 2024.

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