Bereaved Parents for Online Safety secure access to data in campaign win

The Government has promised to amend the Online Safety Bill to provide a humane route for bereaved parents and coroners to access data in a significant step forward for the Bereaved Families for Online Safety Group.

The group, founded by the parents of Molly Russell, Frankie Thomas, Sophie Parkinson, Breck Bednar and Olly Stephens and backed by 5Rights, have been campaigning on amendments which would allow families and coroners to access data from tech companies where there is reason to believe it holds information relevant to a death.

On the final day of committee in the House of Lords on Thursday, Lord Parkinson announced that the government would be bringing forward a package of amendments which would “ensure that companies cannot stonewall parents who have lost a child and that those parents are treated with the humanity and compassion they deserve”.

“This is an important day for bereaved families affected by online harms. The Government has committed to following through with their promise to give a humane route for bereaved parents and for coroners to access critical information at a tragic time.

“We must create an online world that is safe for children, where tragedies like the ones of the families with us today are not commonplace. Our shared goal must deliver safety by design and default and build the digital world that children deserve.” - Baroness Beeban Kidron

The group has been campaigning for the Bill to deliver this route and make services safer by design to prevent future tragedies. Last week they were joined for the first time by the parents of Archie Battersbee, Maia Walsh, Mia Janin and Isaac Kenevan.

“These tragic circumstances have brought us together. The vast differences in our experiences, when seeking to find out what happened to our children, shows the dire need for a pathway for coroners and families to access online data.  

“This must be the first step in stopping the dangerous cycle of leaving other bereaved parents and coroners at the mercy of social media companies.” - Ian Russell, father of Molly Russell

The Government had promised to bring forward amendments at Report stage of the Bill, due to begin next month. The Minister told the house that all platforms will be required to comply with Ofcom’s requests for information about a deceased child’s online activity and this will be backed by Ofcom’s existing enforcement powers, so that, “where a company refuses to provide information without a valid excuse it may be subject to enforcement action, including sanctions on senior managers.”

Crucially, Ofcom will also be able to produce reports for coroners following a Schedule 5 request on matters relevant to an investigation or inquest, which could, “include information about a company’s systems and processes, including how algorithms have promoted specific content to a child”. This will apply to platforms of all sizes in acknowledgement that smaller does not necessarily mean safer.

“This is a landmark moment in providing bereaved families a humane route to justice. For too long, they have been met with delays and deafening silence after the loss of their loved ones.

Our hope has always been that the tragic lessons of their loss could be the foundation for a new beginning. From today, that new beginning can start to take shape.” - Sajid Javid MP, former Home Secretary and supporter of the amendments