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Online Safety Bill to return to Parliament after lengthy delays

Online Safety Bill parliament

The controversial Online Safety Bill will return to Parliament next month following lengthy delays.

The legislation, which aims to make the internet a safer place by giving more powers to communications watchdog Ofcom, has been stuck at the final stage of the Commons since July.

The government has now confirmed that it will resume its journey through the final stages of the House of Commons on 5 December.

If passed into law the Online Safety Bill would give Ofcom the power to hand out large fines to social media companies deemed to have failed their duty of care to users. Sites that fail to protect users could be blocked from being accessed in the UK.

The sweeping legislation is aiming to crack down on harmful online content that includes everything from child sexual abuse materials, terrorist posts and online scams.

The Online Safety Bill has been publicly supported by the families of teenagers who lost their lives due to harmful online content.

However, privacy campaigners have warned that the legislation would give Ofcom surveillance powers that could undermine privacy and the security of journalists and whistleblowers. The bill has also come under criticism that it would pave the way for online censorship.

The head of a forum of UK digital technology watchdogs has previously warned that the Online Safety Bill could hurt small businesses by hitting them with additional costs.

The bill, which is four years and four prime ministers in the making, was put on hold during the Conservative leadership election over the summer.

It still faces passage through the House of Lords before it can receive royal assent and become law.

“This crucial legislation can help prevent people being targeted by fraudulent online adverts that have such a devastating financial and emotional toll on victims,” said Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?.

“The government must now ensure it retains and strengthens the bill’s protections for consumers against a flood of online fraud infiltrating the world’s biggest search engines and social media sites.”