The bill supposedly aims to keep websites and different types of internet-based platforms free of illegal and harmful material, while allegedly defending online freedom of expression at the same time.
The bill's provisions apply to search engines, internet services that host user-generated content like YouTube and social media platforms, online forums, certain kinds of online games and sites that publish or display pornographic or otherwise adult content. (Related: Google unveils new "fact-checking tools" meant to censor and keep independent media out of search results.)
"Today, this government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the U.K. the safest place in the world to be online," claimed Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan, who called the bill a "game-changing" piece of legislation.
Once the bill receives royal assent from British King Charles III, it formally becomes law, and social media platforms will be expected to remove illegal content from the British internet quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place.
These same tech companies will also be expected to prevent children from being able to access harmful and age-inappropriate content by enforcing age limits and age-checking measures.
Companies that do not comply will be issued fines of up to 18 million British pounds ($22.16 million) or 10 percent of their annual global turnover.
Versions of the Online Safety Bill have been circulating in the British government for at least four years before it was finally approved by the House of Commons. Everyone from free speech activists to Big Tech companies raised concerns about the dangers of passing this bill.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and the messaging platform WhatsApp, warned that a provision in the law could force messaging platforms to break end-to-end encryption, which protects the contents of messages sent on their platforms.
British information security and cryptography researchers have also previously come together opposing the bill, raising concerns about how provisions to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material will interact with security and privacy.
The British government, led by the Conservative Party, claimed earlier this month, in an apparent concession to the concerns of privacy activists, that the Office of Communications – which will be put in charge of implementing the provisions of the Online Safety Bill – will only require messaging platforms to scan content where "technically feasible."
Donelan then added that further work will be done after the bill's implementation to develop the proper technology to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material without infringing upon personal privacy.
Dan Frieth, writing for Reclaim The Net, warned that the Online Safety Bill shrouds itself "in a veil of safetyism" and only pretends to support privacy and free speech rights.
"The bill goes beyond forcing platforms to remove illegal content. It calls upon social media giants to act as custodians, safeguarding users against ill-intent messages, cyberbullying and explicit material," Frieth wrote. "We cannot cower from highlighting the bill's overt undertone of censorship, veering into a territory where freedom of speech and privacy might be sacrificed at the altar of digital safety."
"From a free speech and anti-censorship perspective, this legislation is fundamentally disturbing," he continued. "This bill could enhance potential censorship on the pretext of safety."
Frieth, like many others, is concerned about the ways in which the government will roll out approved software to scan through user content to identify possibly illegal materials. Everything from messages, photos and basically any other kind of file British users post online could be subjected to scans, and non-compliance with the scans will result in severe penalties, including criminal charges.
"The 'backdoor scanning system' poses significant threats. It may be exploited by those with malicious intent, mishandled which could lead to false positives, resulting in unwarranted accusations of child abuse," warned Frieth. "These alarming flaws render the Online Safety Bill incompatible with end-to-end encryption – a staple for ensuring user privacy and security – and human rights."
Learn more about online censorship all over the world at Censorship.news.
Watch this clip from Newsmax discussing the ongoing battle against censorship in America.