Communications regulator Ofcom will be granted the power to force tech companies to make a child’s personal data available for coroners and families when investigating a child’s death. This power was added as an amendment to the online safety bill on 22 June, the last day of its passage through parliament.
The change was brought by Baroness Beeban Kidron, peer and advocate for children’s rights online, who described the current situation where “coroners cannot access and review all relevant evidence” as “immoral and a failure of justice”. By making data more accessible, bereaved families who suspect online material to have contributed to their child’s death will be able to access vital information to establish “whether a digital service contributed to their death.”
One family who suffered under the lack of legislation was that of 14-year-old Molly Russell, whose death was linked to high exposure of self-harm content online. Meta and Pinterest provided the inquest with only 10 to 15 per cent of the content Molly viewed before her death, arguing that despite the family and coroner’s wishes, data protection and privacy laws prevented them from handing over Molly’s personal data.
Molly’s father Ian Russell described the change as “the first real step” in giving government the power to decide how this data should be accessed or shared, rather than allowing tech companies to make decisions. The amendment has also been welcomed by others in the Bereaved Families for Online Safety group, established by parents of children who died following consumption of harmful content online. Lorin LeFave, the mother of Breck Bednar, who was 14 when he was murdered by a man who groomed him online, said the progress was “very positive”.
The 5Rights Foundation, which campaigns for greater online safety for children, tweeted that the amendment is a “fantastic result for the Bereaved Families for Online Safety” who have “campaigned tirelessly for six years for a safer online world for children.” MP Sajid Javid also supported the campaign, calling this “an important moment”. However, “there are still important steps ahead, including in implementation,” Javid said.