Tech giants could face swift criminal sanctions for duty of care breaches

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Mike Wright
·2 min read
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According to sources, Mr Dowden's comments were made at a meeting with campaigner Ian Russell last month - Paul Grover/The Telegraph
According to sources, Mr Dowden's comments were made at a meeting with campaigner Ian Russell last month - Paul Grover/The Telegraph

Tech giants could face swift criminal sanctions for breaching incoming duty of care laws, the Culture Secretary has suggested.

The Telegraph understands that Oliver Dowden said senior tech executives could face prosecutions if companies did not clean up their acts soon after the new regulations come into place.

According to sources, his comments were made at a meeting with Ian Russell last month. Mr Russell, the father of Molly Russell, has become a prominent campaigner for online safeguards following his daughter's death. Molly was found dead at her home in Harrow in 2017 after viewing images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram and other apps.

The Government is drafting a bill that would impose a statutory duty of care on tech giants to better protect children from harmful material, a measure for which The Telegraph has campaigned since 2018.

Under the proposals, Ofcom will be given powers to levy huge fines on companies of up to 10 percent of their global revenue or potentially ban them from the UK.

However, campaigners were disappointed in December when ministers announced that tech companies would not face immediate criminal sanctions for breaches. Instead, criminal liability powers will be drafted as a dormant clause in the bill that can be activated by Parliament at a later date.

The Telegraph understands that, in his meeting with Mr Russell last month, Mr Dowden suggested Ofcom would swiftly be given powers to prosecute senior tech executives if the threat of fines did not provoke significant safety reforms from tech and social media giants.

Following the meeting, the Culture Secretary said: "I was pleased to discuss with Mr Russell our shared ambition for an internet that future generations will be able to enjoy safely.

"I assured him we are working at pace to bring forward our Online Safety Bill to usher in a new age of accountability for social media platforms. They will have to protect their users through a duty of care, with tough criminal sanctions for senior managers failing to do so."