The Daily Telegraph

Ex-culture secretary backs new law to jail tech bosses


A FORMER culture secretary has joined a Tory backbench rebellion to push ministers to introduce new powers to jail social media bosses if they fail to protect children from online harms.

Maria Miller, a strong supporter of tougher regulation to combat online abuse, has become one of at least 47 Tory MPS backing an amendment to make tech bosses criminally liable for online harms on their platforms with a maximum jail sentence of two years for breaches of their duty of care to children. Ms Miller, also a former minister for women and equalities, has put forward amendments to the Online Safety Bill that would make the sharing of intimate images of people without their consent a criminal offence punishable with up to three years in jail.

She has previously warned that abuse, bullying and harassment on social media platforms is “ruining lives, underminin­g our democracy and splinterin­g society”.

Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, is considerin­g concession­s in an attempt to head off the rebellion, potentiall­y the biggest since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. With Labour backing the amendment, the Tory rebels could wipe out his 67-strong majority if it is put to a vote on Tuesday.

One option would be new legal duties that would make named directors at tech firms responsibl­e for ensuring their companies complied with new online safety laws. But it is unclear whether ministers wish to bow to backbench demands for executives to be held criminally liable.

Ms Donelan said: “I’m not ruling out any of those amendments because I’ve been working through them. I’m somebody that always takes a sensible approach... If people have good ideas, just because I didn’t think of them doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do them.”

Techuk, which represents the social media firms, is lobbying ministers and MPS with warnings that the prospect of criminal prosecutio­ns will deter investment and could lead to companies pulling out of the UK.

Labour piled pressure on Mr Sunak yesterday by publicly backing “strong criminal sanctions”. Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: “This is a David and Goliath situation, with one small regulator taking on huge tech giants, they need all the weapons in their armoury.”

“Tech bosses will only sit up and take notice of this Bill if they are on the hook for failing to keep people safe on their platforms.”

The current plans limit sanctions to fines worth up to 10 per cent of a firm’s global turnover, equivalent to £9.7billion for Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, the owner of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

Criminal sanctions would only apply if company directors refused to cooperate with any Ofcom investigat­ion into potential breaches.

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