‘Ofweb’ internet regulator plans to protect children is held up

‘Ofweb’ internet regulator plans to protect children is held up

Plans for internet regulator ‘Ofweb’ designed to protect children like tragic Molly Russell is being held up by Whitehall rows

  • There is mounting pressure to bring forward clampdown on tech giants
  • Comes after parents of Molly Russell said last month that self-harm images on Instagram had ‘helped to kill’ the 14-year-old who took her own life
  • Government was due to publish White Paper ‘this winter’ on regulation of tech giants designed to protect children from online filth and violence
  • However, the Mail on Sunday has learned it is still far from ready 

There has been mounting pressure to bring forward a clampdown on tech giants since the grieving parents of Molly Russell (above) said last month that self-harm images on Instagram had ‘helped to kill’ the 14-year-old who took her own life

Wrangling in Whitehall has held up plans to set up a social media regulator dubbed ‘Ofweb’, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

There has been mounting pressure to bring forward a clampdown on tech giants since the grieving parents of Molly Russell said last month that self-harm images on Instagram had ‘helped to kill’ the 14-year-old who took her own life.

The Government was due to publish a White Paper ‘this winter’ on regulation of tech giants designed to protect children from online filth and violence but this newspaper has learned it is still far from ready.

Yesterday Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said it would be published within a month, but a Cabinet source said that timeline was ‘wholly unrealistic’.

Other senior Government sources went further and said the policy document is unlikely to surface before the Spring.

And Downing Street could even delay the publication further to use it as a major post-Brexit springboard for relaunching Theresa May’s premiership after Britain’s EU exit.

Despite growing calls for a clampdown on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, key details on how a new regulator would work have yet to be decided while funding from the Treasury has not yet been secured.

The Government was due to publish a White Paper ‘this winter’ on regulation of tech giants designed to protect children from online filth and violence but this newspaper has learned it is still far from ready. Yesterday Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright (above) said it would be published within a month, but a Cabinet source said that timeline was ‘wholly unrealistic’


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Another problem is that some Ministers believe the proposed clampdown is too draconian and are preparing to try to block or water down the plan.

Whitehall has yet to decide whether the internet should be brought under existing regulator Ofcom, which oversees TV and radio, or whether an entirely new body – given the working name of Ofweb by insiders – needs to be set up with its own budget and enforcement powers.

Doctors’ alarm at assisted suicide plans

More than 1,250 doctors have written to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to express their ‘alarm’ at proposals that could see it ditch its opposition to assisted suicide.

The college is to survey its members on the issue and will drop its opposition to ‘assisted dying’ unless at least 60 per cent of members vote to maintain its current policy. 

Urging the college to abandon the poll, the letter reads: ‘By leaning towards a “neutral” position”, the college is effectively stating that it is not formally opposed to doctors prescribing lethal drugs so patients can end their lives. 

‘In simple terms, neutrality is a misnomer and nothing more than tacit support for assisted suicide.’

One signatory, Professor John Saunders – a former chairman of the RCP’s ethic committee – said: ‘This is a sham poll with a rigged outcome.’

Ministers have also yet to agree the ‘spectrum of harm’ that the body will oversee – and the Treasury has yet to engage with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office on its budget.

There are also deep concerns that harsh regulations could easily be ‘swallowed up’ and dealt with by huge firms such as Facebook but the same rules could ‘cripple’ Britain’s tech sector which is made up of smaller, start-up firms.

Facebook’s chief spin doctor Sir Nick Clegg said the firm would do ‘whatever it takes’ to make the site safer. The former Deputy Prime Minister accepted it was no longer ‘sustainable’ for firms to operate without some regulation and vowed to work with the Government.

However The Mail on Sunday understands Mr Wright has postponed a visit to Facebook HQ in California to discuss the measures, as key details are still up in the air.

Insiders have pointed the finger at the ‘lawyerly’ Culture Secretary, and compared him unfavourably with his ‘Tiggerish’ predecessor Matt Hancock, who wanted to speed up the plans before he was moved to the Health Department.

But defenders of Mr Wright said it was important to ‘get this right’.

Last night his spokesman insisted: ‘This winter we will publish a White Paper, setting out new laws to tackle the full range of online harms and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe.’

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