All 1 Ronnie Cowan contributions to the Online Safety Act 2023

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 12th Jul 2022
Online Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (day 1) & Report stage

Online Safety Bill

Ronnie Cowan Excerpts
Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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I rise to support new clauses 7 and 33 in particular. I support them sometimes from a different angle from my hon. Friends, but fundamentally from the same angle: consent. I am not afraid to say that I have a different perspective from some hon. Members in this House in that I view sex work as a legitimate form of work under regulated and protected conditions, and pornography as part of that. What I do have a problem with is the lack of consent that occurs far too often not only in the industry—that may be too broad a term—but in particular content that we see online at the moment.

That is true particularly for those sex workers who might have produced content with consent at the time, as adults, but who later in life realise that they do not wish that material to be available any more—not just because they may be embarrassed about it, but perhaps because they just do not want that material commercially available and people making profits off their bodies any more. They are struggling to get content taken down because they are told, “You gave consent at the time and that can’t now be removed. You have to allow your body to be used.” We would not allow any other form of worker or artist to suffer that. In any other form of music or production, if they wished to remove their consent for it to be played, it would be taken down, but in pornography there seems to be a free-for-all where, even if people remove their consent, it still proliferates in copies of copies that are put all over the internet. That is not even to mention people who never gave their consent at all and experience revenge porn or their phones being hacked and the devastation that that can cause.

I might come from a different position on some of this, but I think we can be united in saying that of course we need better action on under-18s, which is very important, but even for those who have supposedly given their consent at one point or another, the removal of consent must be put into the Bill and platforms must have a strict responsibility to remove that content. Without that being in the Bill, there is a danger that platforms will continue to play loophole after loophole and the content will still be there when it should not be.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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I was not planning to speak, but we have a couple of minutes so I will abuse that position.

I just want to say that I do not want new clause 7 to be lost in this debate and become part of the flotsam and jetsam of the tide of opinion that goes back and forth in this place, because new clause 7 is about consent. We are trying very hard to teach young men all about consent, and if we cannot do it from this place, then when can we do it? We can work out the details of the technology in time, as we always do. It is out there. Other people are way ahead of us in this matter. In fact, the people who produce this pornography are way ahead of us in this matter.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
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While we have been having this debate, Iain Corby, executive director at the Age Verification Providers Association, has sent me an email in which he said that the House may be interested to know that one of the members of that organisation offers adult sites a service that facilitates age verification and the obtaining and maintaining of records of consent. So it is possible to do this if the will is there.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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I absolutely agree. We can also look at this from the point of view of gambling reform and age verification for that. The technology is there, and we can harness and use it to protect people. All I am asking is that we do not let this slip through the cracks this evening.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
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We have had an important debate raising a series of extremely important topics. While the Government may not agree with the amendments that have been tabled, that is not because of a lack of seriousness of concern about the issues that have been raised.

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) spoke very powerfully. I have also met Leigh Nicol, the lady she cited, and she discussed with me the experience that she had. Sadly, it was during lockdown and it was a virtual meeting rather than face to face. There are many young women, in particular, who have experienced the horror of having intimate images shared online without their knowledge or consent and then gone through the difficult experience of trying to get them removed, even when it is absolutely clear that they should be removed and are there without their consent. That is the responsibility of the companies and the platforms to act on.

Thinking about where we are now, before the Bill passes, the requirement to deal with illegal content, even the worst illegal content, on the platforms is still largely based on the reporting of that content, without the ability for us to know how effective they are at actually removing it. That is largely based on old legislation. The Bill will move on significantly by creating proactive responsibilities not just to discover illegal content but to act to mitigate it and to be audited to see how effectively it is done. Under the Bill, that now includes not just content that would be considered to be an abuse of children. A child cannot give consent to have sex or to appear in pornographic content. Companies need to make sure that what they are doing is sufficient to meet that need.

It should be for the regulator, Ofcom, as part of putting together the codes of practice, to understand, even on more extreme content, what systems companies have in place to ensure that they are complying with the law and certainly not knowingly hosting content that has been flagged to them as being non-consensual pornography or child abuse images, which is effectively what pornography with minors would be; and to understand what systems they have in place to make sure that they are complying with the law and, as hon. Members have said, making sure that they are using available technologies in order to deliver that.