NEWS12 February 2020

Ofcom to regulate tech companies as Dawes takes helm

Legal News People Public Sector Technology UK

UK – Melanie Dawes has been appointed as the new chief executive of Ofcom, as the government announces the watchdog will be given new powers to regulate online platforms such as Facebook.

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Dawes has been permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government since 2015. She replaces Sharon White, who left Ofcom in 2019 to become chairman at John Lewis.

Dawes will take up the position in early March, taking over from interim CEO Jonathan Oxley.

The government announced today ( 12th February) that it will hand new powers to Ofcom to regulate online platforms in addition to its existing broadcast and telecoms remit.

The draft online harms legislation, first announced in April last year, intends to enforce a ‘statutory duty of care’ on tech platforms to ensure users are not exposed to ‘harmful and illegal’ content.

An initial consultation response to the online harms white paper says that the regulatory framework will apply to companies that allow sharing of user-generated content and that there will be safeguards for freedom expression.

Digital media and culture secretary Nicky Morgan said: "With Ofcom at the helm of a proportionate and strong regulatory regime, we have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by groundbreaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the UK.

"We will give the regulator the powers it needs to lead the fight for an internet that remains vibrant and open but with the protections, accountability and transparency people deserve."

It is not clear how Ofcom will carry out the role or determine what constitutes ‘harmful’ content.

The government also wants a new Ofcom chair to oversee the implementation of the changes, so the current chair, Lord Burns, is to step down. He will remain in place until a new chair is appointed by the end of 2020.

Morgan said: "I congratulate Dame Melanie Dawes on her appointment as chief executive of Ofcom. Melanie’s experience leading organisations through change will be vital as the government today announces it is minded to appoint the organisation as regulator for new online harms laws."

Lord Burns said: "The government’s statement that it is minded to appoint Ofcom as the regulator for online harms is a vote of confidence in Ofcom’s expertise. I know Melanie will do a fantastic job of leading the organisation and maintaining its strengths."

The government plans to share more details on the enforcement powers Ofcom may be given in a full consultation response in spring.