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New criminal offences to be added to Online Safety Bill

New criminal offences are set to be added to the Online Safety Bill to protect people online, it has been announced.

The new laws aim to crack down on online criminal activity, such as the sharing of dangerous disinformation, encouraging violence, or committing domestic abuse.

According to the Government, the new online communications offences will bring the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003 up to date, reflecting changes in the way technology – such as smartphones and social media – is being used today.

If someone is found guilty, they could go to prison for up to two years for a harm-based offence, up to 51 weeks for a false communication offence, and up to five years for a threatening communications offence.

The new legislation will also force social media companies to act swiftly and proactively on harmful illegal content and criminal activity. Under the current rules, firms are only required to take down content after it has been reported to them by users.

Providers that fail to take notice could be fined up to 10 per cent of annual worldwide turnover and be blocked in the UK.

The new online criminal offences include:

  • Online drug and weapons dealing
  • Online people smuggling
  • Encouraging violence online
  • Online revenge porn
  • Online fraud
  • Promoting suicide online
  • Inciting or controlling prostitution online
  • Online domestic abuse (such as coercive and controlling behaviour) and threats to rape and kill
  • Deliberate sharing of dangerous disinformation – such as hoax Covid-19 treatments.

The Government is also seeking recommendations for specific online offences, such as “cyberflashing” and “epilepsy trolling”.

Commenting on the new laws, Professor Penney Lewis, Commissioner for Criminal Law, said: “The criminal law should target those who specifically intend to cause harm, while allowing people to share contested and controversial ideas in good faith.

“Our recommendations create a more nuanced set of criminal offences, which better protect victims of genuinely harmful communications as well as better protecting freedom of expression.”

Have you been accused of committing a crime? We help clients through all stages of the criminal justice process. For advice and representation, get in touch with our expert team today.

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