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Government blames 'legal advice' for not including protection against scam ads in its Online Safety Bill

"Legal advice" is the "only reason" the Government hasn't included protection against paid-for scam adverts in its upcoming Online Safety Bill, according to new comments made by secretary of state for digital Nadine Dorries. 

Speaking in a meeting of the joint committee for the draft bill, Ms Dorries this week told MPs that she "would love to" put paid-for scam ads in the Bill but was prevented from doing so by legal advice she had received. It comes after repeated calls from campaigners, including founder Martin Lewis, for these ads to be included in order to protect people from the devastating financial and mental impact of scams.  

See our 25+ ways to stop scams guide for info on what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you're the victim of a scam.

'Legal advice is that it wouldn't work'

As shown in the video below, Ms Dorries told the committee: "What Martin Lewis is campaigning on, I would love to put in here, but legal advice is that it wouldn’t work... It would extend the scope of the Bill in a way which would not be appropriate and would not meet the objectives of the Bill (which protects children). That's the only reason I'm not including it. And it needs its own bill."

Embedded YouTube Video

But when asked if the committee could see the relevant legal arguments so it could consider them before making its report, Ms Dorries responded that this "may not be possible", before concluding: "Put it in the recommendations, that's all I can say at this point." asked the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport why Ms Dorries couldn't share the information. It told us that the advice she had received was privileged, but stressed that Ms Dorries had been clear that online fraud is a huge problem and that the Government is continuing to explore additional legislative and non-legislative solutions to combat the issue.

The comments come as the Treasury Committee announced today that it has written to tech giants Microsoft, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok requesting details on their plans to combat fraud and protect consumers online. The Committee had previously written to Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay and published the firms' responses last week.

The Government must act urgently to curb the epidemic of scam ads

Just weeks ago, founder Martin Lewis passionately called for scam ads to be included in the bill in a no holds barred evidence session to both Houses of Parliament. To watch the evidence Martin gave to Parliament, see Martin Lewis: 'Enough is enough – the Government must include protection against scam ads in its Online Safety Bill'.

Currently, paid-for adverts that appear in internet search results, paid-for adverts and promoted posts that appear on social media, and scams promoted through profiles on dating sites are NOT covered by the draft Bill.

Instead, the scope of the Online Safety Bill when it comes to scams is limited to user-generated content, any scams that appear in 'organic' search results – which are the results you see below any ads on an online search engine – and most user-generated and brand-generated social media posts.

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