The U.K. is speeding up the application of powers that could see tech CEOs sent to prison if their businesses fail to comply with incoming safety-focused internet content legislation, the government confirmed today.

The time frame for being able to apply criminal liability powers against senior tech execs who fail to cooperate with information requests from the regulator has been slashed from two months after the legislation gets passed to just two months. The Online Safety regulation could become law this year since the government enjoys a large majority in the House of Commons.

The core plan of the draft bill has remained the same despite a string of revisions, and the government is introducing a dedicated framework to control how social media companies and other content are regulated.

The bill aims to tackle not just illegal stuff, but also a broad range of internet platforms.

Tech firms should be forced to purge toxic content.

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The government quickly embraced this populist cause, saying that it is to make the U.K. the safest place in the world to go online.

There are huge challenges to effective regulation of such a large arena.

The revised draft bill will be introduced in parliament on Thursday, kicking off a wider, cross-party debate of what remains a controversial yet populist plan to introduce a duty of care on social media companies. The plan has broad support among U.K. lawmakers.

Nadine Dorries commented on the introduction of the bill in a statement.

“The internet has transformed our lives for the better. It’s connected us and empowered us. But on the other side, tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework.

“We don’t give it a second’s thought when we buckle our seat belts to protect ourselves when driving. Given all the risks online, it’s only sensible we ensure similar basic protections for the digital age. If we fail to act, we risk sacrificing the well-being and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unchecked algorithms.

“Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the U.K. the safest place to go online.”

There is broad support inside the U.K. parliament for cracking the whip over tech platforms when it comes to content rules.

There are differing opinions on how best to do that. It will be interesting to see how parliamentarians respond to the draft as it goes through the legislative scrutiny process.

Much of the U.K.'s Online Safety proposal still remains unclear, and not least how well it will work in practice and what it will mean for digital businesses.

The government announced today that the content bucket will be set out in secondary legislation that will be agreed by MPs.

The government's press release states that the bill is intended to ensure platforms hold their ground. They might find their CEOs behind bars.

Unsurprisingly, digital rights groups have been quick to seize on this ambiguous messaging, which reiterates warnings that the legislation is a chilling attack on freedom of expression. The Open Rights Group likened the threat of prison for social media executives to the power being exercised by Putin in Russia.

Jim Killock, the executive director of the org, said in a statement that the power to imprison social media executives should be compared to the power that Putin has.

The fact that the bill keeps changing its content after four years of debate should tell everyone that it is a mess.

The bill gives ministers the power to decide what legal content platforms must remove. The independence of the regulator will still be compromised by parliamentary rubber stamps. It would mean state-sanctioned censorship of legal content.

There are requirements in the bill for social media firms to protect journalism and democratic political debate.

DCMS emphasizes that this particular definition-stretching category is completely exempt from any regulation under the bill. A line in the press release appears to concede at least one looming mess and/or the need for even more revisions/measures to be added.

Dorries had already signaled during parliamentary committee hearings that the government hopes to drum up public support for the criminal liability risk for senior tech execs. She wasted no time in threatening to speed up jail time at Meta's senior execs, saying they should focus on safety and forget about the metaverse.

The power was deferred for at least two years in the original draft of the bill. The time frame was criticized by child safety campaigners, who warned that unless the law has real teeth, it would be useless. A pressing risk of jail time for senior tech executives, such as Meta's Nick Clegg, a former deputy prime minister of the U.K., could certainly concentrate certain C-suite minds on compliance.

The first substantial revision of the draft bill is not the speedier jail time power. At this point in time, there has been a whole banquet of Visions and announcements by the DCMS.

The bill included bringing scam ads and porn websites into scope, expanding the list of criminal content added to the face of the bill, and setting out measures to tackle anonymous troll.

Two parliamentary committees that scrutinized the original proposal last year went on to warn of major flaws and urged a series of changes.

Making senior managers criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or provide false information in interviews with Ofcom, and obstructing the regulator when it enters company offices are just some of the extras today.

Senior executives of major platforms could be sentenced to up to two years in prison if they are found guilty of breaching these offenses.

The government describes active technology as tools for content moderation, user profiling and behavior identification intended to protect users.

Companies will need to demonstrate they are using the right tools to address harms, they are transparent, and any technologies they develop meet standards of accuracy and effectiveness required by the regulator.

The DCMS said that the change reflects the government's commitment to tackling this horrible crime.

Reports to the National Crime Agency will need to meet a set of clear standards to ensure law enforcement receives the high-quality information it needs to safeguard children, pursue offenders and limit lifelong re-victimization.

The proposal is both overblown and half-baked because the government has made so many revisions to it.

There is a risk that the bill ends up with a lack of coherence being costumed in populist conviction and spy an opportunity to grandstand and press for their own personal pet hates to be rolled into the mix.

UK warns Facebook to focus on safety as minister eyes faster criminal sanctions for tech CEOs