The UK will treat online images of immigrants crossing the Channel as a criminal offence

On 17 January, the United Kingdom (UK) government announced that online platforms will have to proactively remove images of immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats under a new amendment to be tabled to the Online Safety Bill. The announcement, intended to bolster the UK’s hostile immigration policy, has been met with concern among the British public and charities working with people on the move . However, it does helpfully confirm the way that this Bill could be manoeuvred to political ends.

How will the new amendment be enforced?

In fact, the proposed amendment says nothing about small boats crossing the Channel. It supports an existing provision in the Bill under the heading of “Assisting Illegal Immigration” Schedule 7 (22). It relies on the interpretation of an obscure text from a 1971 law, and on an opaque requirement for online platforms to “prevent users encountering” this content.

The amendment is to be tabled by the government in the House of Lords. in response to a politically-motivated amendment proposed by 24 Conservative Party members of Parliament (MPs), and led by the MP for Dover, Nathalie Elphicke.

Mrs Elphicke’s amendment called for the removal of content that may result in serious harm or death to a child while crossing the English Channel with the aim of entering the United Kingdom in a vessel unsuited or unsafe for those purposes.”

It was positioned within a provision about content harmful to children. Despite the clumsy drafting, the intention was clear and it won sufficient support to force the government to re-draft it.

As a result, the government’s proposal will amend the illegal content provisions in the Bill.

The content to be removed under these provisions is defined by a list of 33 criminal offences. The government wants to add a new offence under Section 24 of the 1971 Immigration Act, which is about unlawful entry to the UK. The amendment will support the reference to Section 25 of the 1971 Act that is already in the Bill.

The 1971 provisions have been updated in Sections 40 and 41 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the government’s most recent change to immigration law.

In order to force providers to remove the content, the government is relying on “Inchoate offences”. These include aiding and abetting those offences. The government argues that aiding and abetting would include posting videos of people crossing the Channel from France to the UK in small, over-crowded boats. It would also include videos of people trying to enter the UK by climbing aboard lorries.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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