The Queen’s Speech

As most readers will know, following a General Election and then usually annually until the next General Election the British Parliamentary year begins with the “Queen’s Speech”. Her Majesty sits on the throne in the House of Lords and reads a speech which has been prepared for her by the Prime Minister.

The speech sets out the government’s legislative programme for the next twelve months or so and immediately following an election usually that programme reflects what was in the winning party’s manifesto. Things are a little bit different this time because no party won a majority and we have a minority government.

Politics are going to be very fluid and exciting in the period ahead. I suspect a lot of things are going to have to be negotiated both within and between parties before they take shape as a  finished legislative proposal. The consumption of Valium among civil servants is bound to increase and, all in all, there is going to be a great deal of uncertainty.

Anyway,  today Her Majesty delivered the speech and, unsurprisingly, mostly it is about Brexit. The word “Internet” appeared only once and that was in connection with terrorism. The word “children” did not appear at all. However, in the briefing notes which were issued with the text of the speech there is a major mention of a Digital Charter and within the charter issues of concern to children’s online safe safety feature prominently. The fact that the Charter is described as a “non-legislative measure” may raise eyebrows but let’s wait and see how it develops.

Here is the relevant text

Proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online.”

  • We will develop a Digital Charter that will create a new framework which balances users’ and businesses’ freedom and security online.
  • The Charter will have two core objectives: making the UK the best place to start and run a digital business and the safest place in the world to be online.
  • We will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the Charter; and we will make sure it is underpinned by an effective regulatory framework.
  • We are optimistic about the opportunities on offer in the digital age, but we understand these opportunities come with new challenges and threats – to our security, privacy, emotional wellbeing, mental health and the safety of our children. We will respond to these challenges, assuring security and fairness in the new digital age and strengthening the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.
  • We strongly support a free and open internet. But, as in the offline world, freedoms online must be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the potential harms of the digital world. We will not shy away from tackling harmful behaviours and harmful content online – be that extremist, abusive or harmful to children. And we will make sure that technology companies do more to protect their users and improve safety online.
  • Many of these challenges are of an international nature, so we will open discussions with other like-minded democracies and work with them to develop a shared approach. The Prime Minister has already started this process, securing an agreement with G7 countries to strengthen their work with tech companies on this vital agenda.
  • Britain’s future prosperity will be built on our technical capability and creative flair. Through our Modern Industrial Strategy and digital strategy, we will help digital companies at every stage of their growth, including by supporting access to the finance, talent and infrastructure needed for success and by making it easier for companies and consumers to do business online.

Key facts

  • Working with partners, we have supported robust action to tackle harmful material posted online:
    • The Internet Watch Foundation has shared information on approximately 35,000 indecent images of children with six major tech companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Adobe and Google) so they can remove them from their services;
    • The Police Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has secured the removal of over 270,000 pieces of terrorist-related content since its creation;
    • The Digital Economy Act introduces protections for children from seeing adult material online.



About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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