The Daily Telegraph

Tech bosses face year in jail for data offence

- By Charles Hymas Home affairs editor

SOCIAL media bosses will face up to a year in jail if they refuse to provide bereaved parents with data to explain why their children died, under new laws being considered by Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Ms Donelan, who is responsibl­e for the Online Safety Bill, is understood to back the proposals that aim to prevent a repeat of the trauma suffered by the parents of Molly Russell, who were denied access to her social media accounts for nearly five years after the 14-year-old took her life.

Yesterday, the lawyer who supported the family in their battle to have access to their data will back the campaign for tougher laws to aid bereaved parents.

In a letter to Ms Donelan and Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, Merry Varney reveals the social media firms only provided a “tiny fraction” of the material requested despite being asked to do so by the coroner. One, Snapchat, provided “nothing meaningful”.

Even the data that were provided by the companies showed that Molly received 16,000 “destructiv­e” posts, encouragin­g self-harm, anxiety and even suicide in her final six months.

The proposed laws have been laid in Parliament as amendments to the Online Safety Bill, drafted by Baroness Kidron, founder of 5Rights, a charity campaignin­g for online safety. It is backed by four former culture secretarie­s including Baroness Morgan, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Wright.

The changes will create a duty by the online watchdog Ofcom, working with the coroner, to require social media firms to hand over relevant content on “a timeframe that is fair to all parties”.

This would include content that the child “viewed or otherwise engaged with”, the algorithms that might have driven harmful material to them and the way in which they engaged with it such as viewing, sharing, storing, enlarging or pausing.

Any bosses who fail to provide or preserve the content “without reasonable excuse” would face fines of up to 10 per cent of their firms’ global turnover or a maximum one year’s jail sentence.

Snapchat said: “We fully respected the coroner’s inquest and have taken all requests extremely seriously.”

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