Author: Rosalind English

The Online Safety Bill is currently making its way through the House of Commons, having reached the report stage in July. The bill’s concept of “legal but harmful” is controversial, and has attracted criticism from high places, not least of all former Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption. Lord Sumption joins Rosalind English in this episode to discuss the problems involved in defining this kind of harm and the concepts of “misinformation and disinformation” in the Bill. 

Lord Sumption worries about the “sheer randomness” of the process for identifying legal but harmful material, and points out that the internet is absolutely vast; the “scale and speed at which material is added to it every moment of our lives is breathtaking”. The only way, he says, that this can be controlled is by the use of algorithms. But they are incapable of detecting nuance or irony. They are blunt instruments. When you are applying this kind of technique to material at this scale, you are bound to get a very large number of false positives. 

“So you will lose an enormous amount of perfectly acceptable material, material that is not only legal but not harmful.”

Listen to more in Episode 169.

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This piece has been reposted from the UK Human Rights Blog with permission and thanks. The blog post is an advertisement for episode no. 169 of Law Pod UK in which the subject is discussed in detail with Lord Sumption.