On 20 February, 2024, the Governments of the UK and Australia co-signed the UK-Australia Online Safety and Security Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”). The MoU seeks to serve as a framework for the two countries to jointly deliver concrete and coordinated online safety and security policy initiatives and outcomes to support their citizens, businesses and economies.

The MoU comes shortly after the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) introduced its guidance on content moderation and data protection (see our previous blog here) to complement the UK’s Online Safety Act 2023, and the commencement of the Australian online safety codes, which complement the Australian Online Safety Act 2021.

The scope of the MoU is broad, covering a range of policy areas, including: harmful online behaviour; age assurance; safety by design; online platforms; child safety; technology-facilitated gender-based violence; safety technology; online media and digital literacy; user privacy and freedom of expression; online child sexual exploitation and abuse; terrorist and violent extremist content; lawful access to data; encryption; misinformation and disinformation; and the impact of new, emerging and rapidly evolving technologies such as artificial intelligence (“AI”).

Joint actions

Although the MoU is non-binding, some of the joint actions include:

  • coordination of engagement with international partners to champion collaborative approaches to online safety and security;
  • seeking to increase cooperation between the participants’ respective law enforcement agencies and regulators to enhance detection, investigation, disruption and enforcement capabilities, including identifying opportunities to collaborate on technical solutions;
  • building on existing cooperation with wider international partners and multi-stakeholder groups to shape and promote consistent principles and approaches for online safety (including on issues such as age assurance technologies, age-appropriate design and safety by design);
  • seeking to coordinate engagement with global technology companies to help ensure safety is built into the design, development and deployment of online platforms, services, systems and products;
  • enhancing collaboration between industry and governments to address design choice-related challenges and ensuring end-to-end encryption and technologies aiming to enhance privacy and security do not undermine safety (especially for children) and lawful access to data;
  • encouraging industry adoption of existing international transparency frameworks; and
  • supporting the international safety technology sector, and seeking to share evidence on technologies that can protect safety and trust in information online, especially where this is challenged by emerging technologies such as AI.

Strategic progress under the MoU will be reviewed through a new annual online safety and security policy dialogue, helping to set future priorities and areas of cooperation.

A “New Era of Bilateral Cooperation”

The MoU builds upon a background of historic partnership between the UK and Australia, with the two countries having previously partnered in the cybersecurity space through the UK-Australia Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership and AUKUS pillar 2 and in the quantum computing space through their joint statement on quantum computing.

Regulators in the two countries also work together closely, with the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) and Australia’s eSafety Commissioner being members of the Global Online Safety Regulators Network, which aims to enhance consistency between international regulators’ approaches to online safety. We have already seen similar consistency begin to emerge in the realm of privacy regulation, with the ICO and Australian Information Commissioner’s Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in the Regulation of Laws Protecting Personal Data signed in 2020, in addition to the Australian government’s recent commitment to the adoption of new child protection regulations modelled on the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code.

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The Covington team regularly advises on online safety regulation across key global markets. The regulation of online safety is a rapidly evolving area, and we will continue to monitor developments.  We are happy to answer any questions you may have on this topic.

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Photo of Mia Neafcy Mia Neafcy

Mia Neafcy is an associate in the Digital Media Group in London. She supports companies operating in the digital media space in relation to the creation, acquisition, and distribution of content.

Mia advises clients on digital media regulation, in particular in the context…

Mia Neafcy is an associate in the Digital Media Group in London. She supports companies operating in the digital media space in relation to the creation, acquisition, and distribution of content.

Mia advises clients on digital media regulation, in particular in the context of international launches of digital products and content services. Mia also advises on video content licensing and commercial matters.

Mia is an active member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee’s Social Mobility Strand.

Photo of Aleksander Aleksiev Aleksander Aleksiev

Aleksander advises clients on legal problems associated with data protection, cybersecurity, and new technologies. He holds degrees in both law and computer engineering which he combines to provide advice that is both legally sound and technologically pragmatic.

Aleksander has advised companies, governments, and…

Aleksander advises clients on legal problems associated with data protection, cybersecurity, and new technologies. He holds degrees in both law and computer engineering which he combines to provide advice that is both legally sound and technologically pragmatic.

Aleksander has advised companies, governments, and charitable organizations on a range of technology law issues including data breach response, compliance with privacy and cybersecurity laws, and IT contract negotiations. In addition to his experience advising on European law, Aleksander is Australian-qualified and has significant experience advising clients in the Asia-Pacific – particularly on Australian and Hong Kong law.

Photo of Jane Pinho Jane Pinho

Jane Pinho is a partner in Covington’s Digital Media group in London. She works with media industry leaders with global operations, including streaming services, video games and interactive entertainment companies, and social media platforms. She has particular experience advising in relation to the…

Jane Pinho is a partner in Covington’s Digital Media group in London. She works with media industry leaders with global operations, including streaming services, video games and interactive entertainment companies, and social media platforms. She has particular experience advising in relation to the creation, acquisition, and distribution of digital content in the UK and Europe and in relation to the multi-territory launch, expansion, monetization and marketing of digital media products and services. She handles both transactional and regulatory compliance matters.

Jane is a co-chair of the firm’s Entertainment and Media Industry Group.