Online Safety Act Network

Explainer

Ofcom’s enforcement powers under the Online Safety Act

The Online Safety Act sets out Ofcom’s enforcement powers in Chapter Six (Sections 130-151). Ofcom recently consulted on its approach to enforcement and the proposed draft guidance as part of its consultation on illegal harms. In Volume 6 (Information gathering and enforcement powers and approach to supervision), the regulator says: “Ofcom’s general approach to enforcement is guided by our regulatory principles. We operate with a bias against intervention but with a willingness to intervene promptly and effectively when required.

OSA Codes of Practice: bridging duties and compliance

Under the Online Safety Act 2023 (OSA), Ofcom is required to prepare and issue Codes of Practice (CoP) for Part 3 service providers (U2U and search services), setting out measures recommended for compliance with specified duties, bearing in mind the principles in Schedule 4. The CoPs relate to the design, operation and use of services in the UK (or as they affect UK users of the service) but apply to providers of such services regardless of whether or not they are inside the UK.

Search Illegal Content Duties

The first phase of Ofcom’s consultations on implementing the Online Safety Act focuses on the illegal content duties. In this explainer, Prof Lorna Woods and Dr Alexandros Antoniou set out what these duties do in relation to search services and what they require from regulated services in response. A complementary explainer is available on how the illegal content duties apply to user-to-user services. There are three types of duty for search services relating to illegal content:

User-to-User Illegal Content Duties

The first phase of Ofcom’s consultations on implementing the Online Safety Act focuses on the illegal content duties as they apply to user-to-user services. In this explainer, Prof Lorna Woods and Dr Alexandros Antoniou set out what these duties do and what they require from regulated services in response. A complementary explainer is available on how the illegal content duties apply to search services. There are three types of duty for user-to-user (U2U) services relating to illegal content:

OSA: priority illegal content - schedules of offences

The Online Safety Act’s illegal content duties apply to offences, defined as “priority illegal content” that are contained in Schedule 5 (terrorism offences), Schedule 6 (child sexual abuse offences) and Schedule 7 (a range of other offences). The PDF below provides links to the legislation that underpins those individual offences and, where applicable, Crown Prosecution Guidance on the offence.

The Online Safety Act 2023 - What OSA Will Do & What Happens Next

The Online Safety Bill completed its Parliamentary passage in September 2023 and was granted Royal Assent on 26 October 2023. The Online Safety Act 2023 sets out a broad, if complex, framework for regulation. Many of the provisions came into force as soon as the Act was passed (see our Commencement explainer here); it will be for Ofcom – as the designated regulator – to then fill in the detail of the implementation regime through a swathe of consultations, including risk assessments, codes of practice and guidance.

OSA duties on regulated services: a comparison table

This table provides an at-a-glance comparison of the duties that the Online Safety Act confers on regulated services in each category: 1, 2a. 2b and search.

The journey to the Online Safety Act: a timeline

This timeline sets out what happened when - from the UK Government’s initial policy proposals on internet regulation through to the Online Safety Act receiving Royal Assent. A PDF with clickable links to the policy and legislative documents is available to download below.