More than 13,000 online child sex offences while promised safety bill sat in limbo, research suggests | Science & Tech News


More than 13,000 online child sex offences will have been recorded while the government’s flagship internet safety legislation sat in limbo over the summer, new research has suggested.

The Online Safety Bill was due to return to parliament today after being pushed back from July – and more than 100 grooming and other such crimes are likely being registered by police each day in the meantime, the NSPCC says.

But the bill coming back before MPs has been delayed further following the latest Tory leadership crisis, which saw Rishi Sunak installed as the new prime minister last week.

The government has since refused to commit to a new timetable.

The NSPCC said the “crucial” legislation should be treated “as a priority”.

Chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “There is overwhelming public consensus for the crucial legislation to be bought back as a priority and with strengthened protections for children, so they are systemically and comprehensively safe from harm and abuse for years to come.”

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson told Sky News: “Protecting children and stamping out illegal activity online is a top priority for the government, and we will bring the Online Safety Bill back to parliament as soon as possible.”

More on Online Safety Bill

What is the Online Safety Bill?

The legislation was a key part of the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto, with the former culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, vowing to get tough on tech firms.

Addressing parliament last year, she threatened social media bosses with swift criminal prosecution if they failed to “remove your harmful algorithms today”.

Under the original proposals, tech companies would have two years after the passage of the bill to prepare for the changes.

Opposition to the plan was focused on the vague definition of “online harm”, with critics suggesting it would give the DCMS too much power to dictate internet discourse.

That debate has been brought to the fore by Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, as he appears keen to loosen content moderation rules, despite growing pressure from governments to do the opposite.

Read more:
Super app or ‘Wild West’? The future of Twitter under Elon Musk

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‘We have to take advantage of this moment’

Victim’s emotional plea to PM

Nearly 50,000 people have signed a petition calling on Mr Sunak to get the Online Safety Bill passed.

The campaign includes a letter from a victim who was groomed and abused online from the age of 11.

“Unregulated online spaces meant my abuser could use several platforms to groom, abuse, and manipulate me without ever having to leave his home,” they wrote.

“Online grooming by its very nature is intense and deceptive, and it took me a long time to realise that what happened to me was not my fault.

“Sadly, too many children are still going through the same thing I did.

“They are still not safe from grooming and sexual abuse online.

“But you can change this.

“You have the power to stop this happening to other young people.”

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‘Thank you Molly, for being my daughter’

‘We’re endangering young people’

It comes after the father of teenager Molly Russell, who took her own life aged 14 after viewing content related to self-harm and suicide on social media, warned further delays to the bill would endanger young people.

“If we wait around and chase perfection, we’re endangering young people in particular, who are exposed to harmful content,” he told The Guardian last month.

The current culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, has insisted the bill is her top priority.

The NSPCC cited Home Office police data for its analysis, based on the total number of online child abuse cases recorded in England and Wales in 2021/22.

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