Donelan confirms stiffer online safety measures after backbench pressure | Internet safety

Tech executives who “connive” in ignoring regulatory warnings to protect children from online harms face up to two years in jail under changes to landmark legislation announced by the government.

The culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, confirmed that the online safety bill would be amended after pressure from Conservative backbenchers. The new provision will target senior managers at tech platforms who ignore enforcement notices from Ofcom, the communications watchdog, about breaches of the legislation’s child safety duties.

Under the bill, tech companies including social media firms and search engines have a duty to protect children from harmful content such as material promoting self-harm and eating disorders.

Donelan said the change would capture cases where senior managers had “consented or connived in ignoring enforceable requirements, risking serious harm to children”. She said it would not affect executives who “acted in good faith” to protect children, amid warnings from tech firms that threatening executives with jail could damage investment in the UK.

“While this amendment will not affect those who have acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way, it gives the act additional teeth to deliver change and ensure that people are held to account if they fail to properly protect children,” she said.

Under a further change to the bill, video footage that shows people crossing the Channel in small boats in a “positive light” will be added to a list of illegal content that all tech platforms must proactively prevent from reaching users. Donelan said posting positive videos of crossings could be aiding and abetting immigration offences. Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, had originally tabled an amendment proposing the change.

Both amendments will be introduced when the bill moves to the House of Lords after its third reading in the Commons on Tuesday. The bill also places a duty of care on tech firms to shield users from illegal content such as child sexual abuse and terrorist material. Companies that breach the act could face fines of up to £18m or 10% of global turnover.

A lobby group for the UK tech industry said it was pleased with the liability change, which was brought in by the government after it faced defeat over a similar amendment backed by Conservative backbenchers including the former leader Iain Duncan Smith and the former home secretary Priti Patel. Donelan has said the amendment will be based on a provision in Ireland’s 2022 online safety act.

Antony Walker, the deputy CEO of TechUK, said: “Any proposal for senior management liability needs to be clear, proportionate and workable. We are pleased the government has recognised this.”

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