Almost 40 Tory MPs have joined a major backbench rebellion over the Online Safety Bill with a demand that tech bosses should be imprisoned if they fail to protect children from online harm. Thirty-seven Tory MPs have signed an amendment that would give Ofcom, the communications watchdog, additional powers to prosecute tech bosses.
With the support of Labour, the rebels could wipe out Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s majority and inflict his first parliamentary defeat since he got the keys to Number 10 last October.
At least 10 former ministers, including former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Home Secretary Priti Patel and 2016 leadership contender Dame Andrea Leadsom, are backing the amendment.
One supporter, who claimed ministers are “worried”, said: “We have reached critical mass.”
Mr Sunak has faced previous rebellions over planning reforms and onshore wind farms.
On both occasions, the Prime Minister backed down and offered concessions.
According to The Daily Telegraph, it is understood that ministers are considering the amendment and have asked officials to ensure that the legislation has no “unintended consequences”.
Should it be successful, the legal change would hold tech bosses criminally and personally liable for breaches of their firm’s duties to protect children from harmful content, such as promoting suicide, self-harm and child abuse.
They could be prosecuted with a maximum jail sentence of two years if found guilty.
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Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, she said that tech firms needed to show they were moral organisations.
She said: “We urgently need to hold tech companies to account so they step up and show some moral compass.”
Penistone & Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates, who is leading the campaign, said that the threat of personal sanctions for managers would drive a culture change.
Cates argued: “As regulations for other sectors show, only the threat of personal sanctions for senior managers will drive the significant culture change that is required in Big Tech boardrooms.”