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2021 Queens Speech Touts Online Safety Bill and Broadband Boost

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021 (1:38 pm) - Score 1,848
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The Queen has today carried out the first State Opening of Parliament since the pandemic began, which sets out the UK Government’s agenda for the coming session. As expected this included various references to gigabit broadband and mobile connectivity, as well as their plans to publish the controversial Online Safety Bill.

As usual the speech is historically more of a ceremonial affair, which often only serves to feed the media with a tiny sliver of new information on forthcoming Government policy and precious little else in the way of detail. On the other hand, you do sometimes get a few surprises and as usual we keep an eye out for anything to do with broadband or telecoms.

In terms of broadband and internet policy, this year there were no huge surprises as most of what the Queen announced has already been reported on before. Most of the policies relate to cutting more red tape and supporting the deployment of new fixed (full fibre) and mobile (4G, 5G) networks via the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme and the £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) industry scheme.

However, the main addition this time around is the much-delayed introduction of the new Online Safety Bill (Online Harms), which among other things seeks to make Ofcom the regulator of “harmful” internet content (websites and content providers that fail to comply could be fine or possibly even blocked by ISPs and mobile operators).

The new Online Safety Bill (due to be published soon) may also seek to reintroduce the porn block (age verification) system in some form, which has been heavily criticised over concerns about privacy and effectiveness (here). We’ve pasted the relevant parts of the Queen’s Speech below.

The Queen said:

“My Government will strengthen the economic ties across the union, investing in and improving national infrastructure. Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus [High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill] and to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit capable broadband [Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill].

My Government will lead the way in ensuring internet safety for all, especially for children [Draft Online Safety Bill] whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open and secure internet.

My Government will introduce measures to increase the safety and security of its citizens.

Legislation will be introduced to counter hostile activity by foreign states [Counter-State Threats Bill, Telecommunications (Security) Bill]. My Ministers will implement the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.”

We should point out that the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill has already become an Act (here) and thus the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (PSTIB) is a different animal that covers various areas, while other changes to improve gigabit broadband and mobile coverage are also underway via changes to the existing Building Regulations (here) and Electronic Communications Code (ECC).

Confusingly there’s also the Telecommunications (Security) Bill to consider, which is a controversial piece of looming legislation because it goes much further than just banning Huawei from the UK’s 5G mobile networks (here). The TSB also threatens putative measures in the name of security and may make internet snooping a much bigger problem, not that this is how they’re selling it today (see below).

As usual the speech itself doesn’t offer much detail, and we’ve had to wait for the related briefing notes to be published before getting any truly useful information. On that point we’ve pasted aspects related to internet, mobile and broadband policy below.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Ensure that smart consumer products, including smartphones and televisions, are more secure against cyber attacks, protecting individual privacy and security.

● Accelerate and improve the deployment and use of digital communications networks. This will support the installation, maintenance, upgrading and sharing of apparatus that enables better telecommunications coverage and connectivity.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

● Protecting consumers from cyber attacks by preventing the sale of insecure devices with default passwords which are easy to hack, and ensuring they are made aware at point of sale about how long devices like smart televisions, phones and speakers, will receive security updates.

● Keeping product security standards up to date, protecting the UK from emerging threats. It will also enable the UK to lead the international adoption of more secure technologies. Improving security will increase consumer confidence to adopt emerging technologies as they come to market.

● Supporting faster and more efficient deployment of telecommunications networks, to keep pace with the growing demand for fast, reliable, resilient connectivity from homes and businesses across the UK.

● Reducing the number of new sites and installations needed by ensuring the use of existing apparatus and equipment is optimised.

The main elements of the Bill are:

● Requiring manufacturers, importers and distributors to ensure that consumer connected products that are available to UK consumers meet minimum security standards. It would also create powers to investigate cases of non-compliance and to take steps to ensure compliance.

● Providing a robust regulatory framework that can adapt and remain effective in the face of rapid technological advancement, the evolving techniques employed by malicious actors and the broader international regulatory landscape.

● Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code to support faster and more collaborative negotiations for the use of private and public land for telecommunications deployment, and to put the right framework in place for the use of installed apparatus. The Government is carefully analysing responses to the recent consultation to ensure this package of reforms delivers the necessary results.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill will extend and apply to the whole of the UK

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Give the Government new powers to boost the security standards of the UK’s telecoms networks and establish one of the strongest regimes for telecoms security in the world.

● Strengthen the security and oversight of technology used in telecoms networks including the electronic equipment and software used across the network which handle internet traffic and telephone calls.

● Ensure that the Government can respond to national security threats within our networks now and in the future, as technologies evolve and new threats emerge.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

● Ensuring the long-term security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks and infrastructure and minimising the threat of high risk vendors.

● Giving people confidence in the security of the mobile and broadband networks which they rely upon for business and leisure, in an age where new and potentially transformative technologies such as 5G and gigabit-capable broadband are emerging.

● Delivering on the Government’s commitment in the 2019 Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report to introduce a new, robust telecoms security framework.

The main elements of the Bill are:

● New legal duties on telecoms firms to increase the security of the entire UK telecoms network.

● New powers for the Government to place controls on use of services and equipment from high risk vendors such as Huawei.

● New responsibilities on Ofcom to monitor telecoms operators’ security.

● Fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover or £100,000 a day for failing to meet the required standards.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill’s provisions will extend and apply to the whole of the UK.

Draft Online Safety Bill

The purpose of the draft Bill is to:

● Introduce ground-breaking laws to keep people safe online whilst ensuring that users’ rights, including freedom of expression, are protected online.

● Build public trust by making companies responsible for their users’ safety online, whilst supporting a thriving and fast growing digital sector.

● Designate Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator.

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

● Delivering our manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, through improving protections for users, especially children, whilst protecting freedom of expression.

● Ensuring there is no safe space for criminal content and activity online.

● Restoring public trust in the services that online platforms offer and supporting a thriving, fast growing digital sector.

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

● Placing a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of their users online. This will require them to tackle illegal content on their services and to protect children from harmful content and activity online. They must seriously consider the risks their services pose to users and take action to protect them.

● Requiring major platforms to set out clearly in their terms and conditions what legal content is unacceptable on their platform and enforce these consistently and transparently.

● Requiring platforms to have effective and accessible user reporting and redress mechanisms to report concerns about harmful content, and challenge infringement of rights (such as wrongful takedown).

● Designating Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator and giving it a suite of robust enforcement powers to uphold the regulation. This will include very large fines of up to £18 million or 10 per cent of annual global turnover – whichever is greater – as well as business disruption measures. The Government expects Ofcom to prioritise enforcement action where children’s safety has been compromised.

● Boosting public resilience to disinformation through media literacy and supporting research on misinformation and disinformation.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill will extend and apply to the whole of the UK.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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