A senior Tory has told BuzzFeed News the government has "missed" an opportunity to tackle online abuse. Maria Miller, the former culture secretary, said people would "find it difficult to understand why the government doesn't want to tackle" the problem.
She was speaking about the digital economy bill, which today will have its second reading in parliament. The bill contains a number of measures concerning the internet, including a right to receive a minimum download speed and automatic compensation for customers if networks fail.
However, Miller says the measures in the bill to tackle online abuse and so-called revenge pornography do not go far enough and that the legislation "ignores growing concern" around these problems.
She told BuzzFeed News there are already 37 pieces of legislation that can be used to tackle online abuse, but that current law "predates the internet age. The way [it affects] people can be very different: If someone put up a nude picture of someone [without their consent] in an office it would be taken down and the scale of the impact can be recognised; it's not the same on the internet where thousands of people can see it in a matter of minutes."
She said local police forces were "struggling to cope" with the scale of abuse online, and repeated a call for a levy on social media companies that did not tackle abuse on their platforms. She said such a measure would be reasonable "if police have evidence that a crime is being committed".
Miller would not be drawn on whether she thought the bill had been watered down as a result of lobbying from tech companies, but said: "I think in the past there has been too much focus on letting social media organisations grow and letting them do business in the way they do in the US."
She also said that there needed to be "much tougher measures" around the viewing of online pornography by children and around sites that depict child abuse.
Miller said there had been some successes in recent years, including the prosecutions of over 200 people for "revenge porn" offences, but that the police needed a "proper definition of sexual abuse [online] so that they can be aware of what's right and wrong."
She said she would be supporting the bill because she applauded the measures in it relating to "super-fast" broadband, but is likely to have some stinging criticism for her successor, culture secretary Karen Bradley, when the legislation is discussed in the House of Commons today.
The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport has been contacted for comment.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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