Bereaved parents’ anger at ‘betrayal’ over online safety law amendments

15 December 2023, 15:34

Laptop stock
Laptop stock. Picture: PA

Proposed changes to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill have been called ‘callous’ and ‘devastating’ by the group.

A group of bereaved parents has accused the Government of “betrayal” over amendments to online safety laws around coroners accessing data following the death of a child.

The Bereaved Families for Online Safety group has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other ministers calling the proposed changes “callous”.

Under the Online Safety Act, which passed into law earlier this year, coroners were to be given powers to work with online safety regulator Ofcom to access data from tech companies in the event a child has died and there is reasonable suspicion that the information is relevant to their death – an approach the families had campaigned for.

However, the Government recently tabled amendments to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill that the group claims water down this provision, to only include cases where a coroner suspects a child has taken their own life.

The group has warned this would limit the ability of coroners to establish the full circumstances of a child’s death.

The campaigners came together having each lost children due to exposure to online harms, in different circumstances, and campaigned for the provisions following their own difficulties accessing information.

Their letter to the Prime Minister, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan and Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, says they are “devastated” to learn that “despite personal promises made to us in private meetings and assurances made at the despatch box”, the Government had “after the fact – placed limits on the agreed route”, adding “this is a betrayal”.

“Our children died in different ways and in different circumstances relating to the digital world,” the letter says.

“The tragedy for each of us remains and we all share the need to understand more about their deaths, however they died. We find the changes the Government has made callous.

“Our lived experience is that coroners and police have persistently failed to get hold of the necessary data from tech companies for their investigations.

“This routine failure is a miscarriage of justice and a source of great pain for many of us, and many more families bereaved by the loss of a child.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We know how important this is for families going through the most tragic circumstances. The Online Safety Act ensures information about any child who has died can be collected from social media platforms for coroner investigations, this is not changing.

“To make sure this works effectively, the changes we are making through the Data Protection Bill will ensure social media platforms keep the data coroners need where a child has taken their life, no matter what the circumstance.

“This kind of data can already be retained and shared for police investigations where a serious crime like murder is committed, thanks to established police powers, but we continue to work with families to ensure we get this right.”

By Press Association

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