Internet Regulation: Ireland’s Online Safety Efforts
The third and final legislative body we’re looking at in our examination of current online safety legislation is the Republic of Ireland. Instinctif’s Conor Brennan reports on the perspective from Dublin, which is introducing its own Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
Alongside its commitments as part of the EU, the Republic is also keeping an eye on its neighbour’s developments in London as the final Irish bill is drafted.
Ireland has forged its own path, as HQ to many multinational tech companies
The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill
In January 2022, the Irish Government published its Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill, detailing how it hopes to establish a new Online Safety Commissioner who will be tasked with regulating the activities of online services through safety codes to tackle the availability of “harmful online content”.
It has been a long time coming, having undergone much debate in the relevant Oireachtas (Houses of Parliament) Committee on how far the Bill should go to bring certain activities into scope. Committee members also questioned to what extent the online service providers should be required to act on incidences deemed within the categories of harmful content.
While already transposing the EU Audiovisual and Media Services Directive, and home to many of the largest tech companies for EMEA, the Irish Government saw its opportunity to tackle online safety more broadly. It has taken a three-part approach and provided four proposed categories of harmful content – material that:
- is criminal to share
- is readily identifiable as serious cyberbullying
- promotes eating disorders
- promotes or provides instructions for suicide and self-harm.
It then asks the Online Safety Commissioner to make ‘online safety codes’ which must be complied with. Finally, it will be for the Online Safety Commissioner to designate certain online services that fall under the remit of the regulations or ‘codes’.
For example, the Online Safety Commissioner will regulate video-sharing platform services, social media services and public boards and forums. The issue becomes tricky when we look beyond these services to private communications, e-commerce, and storage services. Not to mention how the newly established regulator tackles new services that may not fit neatly into a set designation.
Implementing practical online legislation
As the Bill enters the Oireachtas for enactment, the key debate that policymakers are grappling with is how to form a workable, future-proof piece of regulation that delivers tangible difference to our online experience, from children through to adults. The Government is currently examining whether this should include an individual complaints mechanism and has tasked an Expert Group to spend three months investigating the merits of this method, reporting back for potential amendments at Committee Stage of the Bill.
The initial Government draft of the Bill was reluctant to go down this route, opting for a risk-based systemic method. It was envisaged that this would allow for a more considered approach when handling investigations into content not yet deemed illegal. It will also allow the new regulator to focus resources on activities across multiple designated online service providers rather than individual occurrences.
This year will reveal how the final text of the Bill lands. It will also tell us if Ireland’s approach chimes with that of Westminster and Brussels, or if the seeds of fragmented regulation of a safer internet have been sown. In this regard, the Irish Government will be closely watching the passing of the EU DSA – this remains the one piece of legislation that could supersede large parts of Ireland’s play to be a frontrunner in online safety.