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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Aim of the Online Safety Bill is to repress and restrict all forms of social media – Saliya Pieris

  • Notes repression of free expression/media, negative impact on e-businesses/foreign service providers

The primary objective of the recently gazetted draft of the Online Safety Bill is repressing and restricting all forms of social media rather than making cyberspace safer, claimed Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) former President, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris.

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday (20), he said that everyone should challenge the proposed Online Safety Bill which has now become the Government’s new tool of repressing freedom of expression and the free media.

Pieris also noted that granting sole authority to a commission to decide what is true and what is false, or what should be published and what should not, will not be suitable for a democratic country. “According to this Bill, people who violate the regulations imposed by the said commission will be charged. Such things will restrict freedom of expression, and citizens will not be able to express what they feel freely,” he said.

He also claimed that the Bill had been drafted secretly without having proper consultations with relevant stakeholders, and that therefore, such a bill could not be accepted as a piece of legislation made for the betterment of society, but made instead for the benefit of rulers. He also emphasised that such laws that restrict social media would adversely affect the electronic businesses and day-to-day activities of many.

“This Bill contains certain provisions that facilitate the Government to prosecute service providers. As we know, most of the service providers in digital media platforms are foreign companies. So, such legislation would discourage them from providing services,” Pieris added.

Meanwhile, speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (19), Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that if the Government suddenly regulates online support services, and social media and other digital support services through the Broadcasting Authority Act, the social media market would leave our country, resulting in the collapse of many businesses that depend on it.

The Bill is being introduced to facilitate the establishment of an Online Safety Commission, to make provisions to prohibit the online communication of certain statements of fact in Sri Lanka, to prevent the use of online accounts and inauthentic online accounts for prohibited purposes, to make provisions to identify and declare online locations used for prohibited purposes in Sri Lanka, to suppress the financing and other support for the communication of false statements of fact, and matters related to online safety.

The Morning 


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