5Rights backs calls from the Bereaved Families for Online Safety for Government to keep Online Safety Act promises

5Rights has backed calls from the Bereaved Families for Online Safety for the Government to keep the promises made to them during the passage of the Online Safety Act on provisions which would support coroners’ investigations into the deaths of children.

This morning (15 December) the families wrote to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak MP, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan MP, and the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk MP, to express their dismay at these changes:

“We are devastated to find out… that despite personal promises made to us in private meetings and assurances made at the despatch box to Baroness Kidron, that the Government has – after the fact – placed limits on the agreed route. This is a betrayal. 

“Our children died in different ways and in different circumstances relating to the digital world. The tragedy for each of us remains and we all share the need to understand more about their deaths, however they died.”

5Rights founder and Chair, Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, who laid the original amendments to the Online Safety Act which allowed for these provisions, said: 

“I join the Bereaved Families for Online Safety in their dismay that the Government has not kept to their word. We were promised that data that was relevant to the death of a child would be in scope. Narrowing it to those who take their own life misunderstands the complexity of the cases that have come forward, and breaks commitments made at the despatch boxes in both Houses… they [government] have a moral duty to put this right and it is a sad day for Parliament if promises made in September from the despatch box are undermined by December.”

Officially passed in October, the Online Safety Act (OSA) introduced a humane route for parents and coroners 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.

However, the Government recently tabled amendments to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill which would water-down this provision to only include cases where a coroner suspects a child has taken their own life. This narrows the original intention of this measure and would leave cases where a child has been murdered, for example, out of scope.

The amendment is contrary to personal promises made to the families and assurances given to parliamentarians throughout passage of the OSA. The original provisions would have given the coroner freedom to consider how the data might help their investigations in all cases.

The letter was signed by the group which includes, Lisa Kenevan, mother of Isaac Kenevan; Lorin LaFave, mother of Breck Bednar; Amanda and Stuart Stephens, parents of Olly Stephens; Hollie Dance, mother of Archie Battersbee; Ian Russell, father of Molly Russell; Ruth Moss, mother of Sophie Parkinson; Liam Walsh, father of Maia Walsh; and Mariano Janin, father of Mia Janin.

The families, who came together following a shared tragedy of having lost children due to exposure to online harms, campaigned heavily for the Online Safety Act to include these measures following their own difficulties accessing information.