Consultation: Protecting people from illegal harms online

Published: 9 November 2023
Consultation closes: 23 February 2024
Status: Closed (pending statement)

This is the first of four major consultations that Ofcom, as regulator of the new Online Safety Act, will publish as part of our work to establish the new regulations over the next 18 months.

It focuses on our proposals for how internet services that enable the sharing of user-generated content ('user-to-user services') and search services should approach their new duties relating to illegal content.

We cover:

  • the causes and impacts of illegal harms;
  • how services should assess and mitigate the risks of illegal harms;
  • how services can identify illegal content; and
  • our approach to enforcement.

Our proposals reflect research we have carried out over the last three years, as well as evidence gathered through extensive engagement with industry and other experts.

How to read this consultation

  1. Start with a summary of our proposals (PDF, 463.4 KB) and a summary of each chapter (PDF, 469.7 KB). These tell you everything you need to know about the proposals that affect you.
  2. If you want to get into more detail, the six volumes explain our proposals in full.
  3. In the annexes, we've published first drafts of our codes of practice, risk assessment guidance and other guidance.

Our consultation closed on 23 February 2024. Gill Whitehead, Ofcom's Group Director for Online Safety, wrote the following note to respondents:

I wanted to share a short note to acknowledge receipt of your response to our consultation, but also to thank you sincerely for devoting time and consideration to your replies.

So much of Ofcom’s work is only made possible through the constructive and often very frank feedback from our stakeholders. In this instance, I know you faced a big task responding to such a critically important and complex consultation.

I’m particularly mindful of the contribution from the stakeholders with fewer resources at hand, such as smaller services and civil society groups. I do not for one moment take for granted how much time and effort this must have required. I can assure you that your submission, and all the contributions we’ve received, will be closely reviewed by our policy team as we seek to make our proposals even stronger.

Finally, a reminder of the next steps. We will carefully consider all the responses and evidence received, and then aim to publish our regulatory statement and conclusions around the end of this year. Services will then need to complete an illegal harms risk assessment, and we will submit our codes to the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, for laying before Parliament. Ofcom will issue these unless Parliament resolves not to approve them. We will, of course, update you as our work progresses.

Once again, thank you for helping us with this important work, and I look forward to working more with you in the years to come.

Gill Whitehead, Group Director for Online Safety

Main documents

Consultation at a glance: our proposals and who they apply to (PDF File, 463.4 KB)

A summary of each chapter (PDF File, 469.7 KB)

Crynodeb o bob pennod (PDF File, 479.6 KB)

Overview (PDF File, 273.9 KB)

Trosolwg (PDF File, 279.7 KB)

Volume 1: Background to the new Online Safety regime (introduction, illegal content duties and offences, and overview of regulated services) (PDF File, 1.0 MB)

Volume 2: The causes and impacts of online harm (PDF File, 3.2 MB)

Volume 3: How should services assess the risk of online harms? (PDF File, 1.2 MB)

Volume 4: How to mitigate the risk of illegal harms – the illegal content Codes of Practice (PDF File, 3.4 MB)

Volume 5: How to judge whether content is illegal or not? (Illegal Content Judgements Guidance) (PDF File, 624.2 KB)

Volume 6: Information gathering and enforcement powers and approach to supervision (PDF File, 752.2 KB)

Annexes 1–4: Responding to this consultation (PDF File, 267.7 KB)

Annex 5: Draft service risk assessment guidance (PDF File, 764.8 KB)

Annex 6: Draft guidance on record keeping and review (PDF File, 231.2 KB)

Annex 7: Draft illegal content codes of practice for user-to-user services (PDF File, 658.5 KB)

Annex 8: Draft illegal content codes of practice for search services (PDF File, 489.1 KB)

Annex 9: Draft guidance on content communicated ‘publicly’ and ‘privately’ under the Online Safety Act (PDF File, 250.4 KB)

Annex 10: Draft guidance on judgement for illegal content (PDF File, 2.8 MB)

Annex 11: Draft enforcement guidance (PDF File, 1.4 MB)

Annexes 12-16 (PDF File, 953.3 KB)


Contact information

Ofcom Online Safety Team
Riverside House
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
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