Lib Dems are wisely taking a detailed look at whether website blocking would lead to excessive legal claims and censorship of legitimate material, or if it could be employed to reduce copyright infringement.
Ofcom, too, has been asked to look at whether the policy is practical . We at Open Rights Group met them to say: no it isn't. And the collateral damage to people's rights is likely to be very high.
As it stands, copyright holders can already go to Court to ask for websites to be blocked, as the result of previous lobbying. But they don't use this legal power, and want a new one: we can only suppose they want something easier and more likely
to deliver the result they want.
A campaign has been launched in response to a threat from lone terrorists - individuals with no direct links to groups such as al-Qaeda who are radicalised through information they find online.
The Home Office has launched a website (www.direct.gov.uk/reportingonlineterrorism) where members of the public can report material on the internet which could be used to incite terrorism.
British police will then try to take the information down to prevent the radicalisation of people in the UK. [It seems to be missing the step where someone examines the material to see if it is actually a
threat...Complainers are not always right, although the police seem to think so].
Tayside Assistant Chief Constable Colin McCashey, Scotland's head of counter-terrorism, said:
The main cause of concern is the use of the internet. We look at that from two angles. One is that if I was in a country 1,000 miles away I could communicate with would-be terrorists, or people vulnerable to radicalisation,
via the internet. This has become more of a threat to us.
The other is that we are aware of people who may be sitting in the comfort of their own home, looking at the internet, who are becoming more aware of what is on the internet.
We might be faced with problem individuals who are not part of a network, who are not connected to al-Qaeda, but who take it on themselves and act as a lone terrorist.
It does not take a great deal of imagination to realise how difficult that is to deal with.
Shameful libel laws kill debate and smother scientific inquiry. Our coalition bill will let the press be free
We live in an information age, with knowledge flowing in unprecedented ways. Recent weeks have been dramatic proof of that. Twitter helped oust Hosni Mubarak. Thanks to global, 24-hour news reporting, Muammar Gaddafi's actions cannot be hidden.
Global citizens watch in real time as events unfold in Japan.
In such an age ideas are everything and openness reigns supreme. Power rests, increasingly, on winning the argument, and censorship has no place.
The arrival of the draft defamation bill was cheered in the US, where the long reach of libel tourism had prompted domestic bills shielding Americans from judgments that chill free speech from abroad. President Obama just last August
signed the SPEECH Act into law. It wasn't aimed explicitly at the UK; rather, it protects Americans from the enforcement of all libel judgments ruled against them in countries that don't afford the same free speech protection as the US First
But it was not a secret that the legislation was triggered by my fight against the imposition of English libel laws, said Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American academic whose run-in with a wealthy Saudi businessman in British court became the
galvanizing case for libel tourism in the US: I thought that since the United States had fought and won its independence from England in 1776, Ehrenfeld said, there was no reason for Americans to abide by repressive English law.
Major changes to Britain's antiquated defamation laws will be outlined by ministers with the publication of a bill to provide greater protection for free speech and an end to libel tourism .
The draft Defamation Bill will propose a new defence of honest opinion , which will protect academics from being sued by companies and special-interest groups for damaging their reputations. There is currently a defence of fair comment
, but it has to be based on stated and true facts and rarely succeeds.
There will also be new rules to stop celebrities and businessmen from bringing libel cases in Britain unless they can prove that the publication caused them substantial harm in the country. Foreign litigants will have to sue in the country
where most of the damage to their reputations was done, rather than using the English courts on the basis that the publication was available in Britain.
Under the new rules, it will be up to a judge to decide whether substantial harm has been caused to reputation in this country. It is expected that if the main damage was done outside this country, UK courts will not accept jurisdiction.
Councils should allow bloggers to film their meetings, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.
Pickles said it was important local bloggers were given the same access as professional journalists at a time when budget decisions are being made:
Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from
bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.
Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don't seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in.
Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny.
Pickles said a decision by Tameside borough council, in Greater Manchester, to accredit professional journalists to use the micro-blogging website Twitter meant local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to 'tweet'
because they are not considered members of the press .
And he pointed out that Windsor and Maidenhead borough council had raised concerns about videoing, citing 'Data Protection'. Blogger Chris Taggart published footage on his own website of his unsuccessful efforts to film the council's
meeting. Windsor and Maidenhead said a motion to allow people to film their meetings provided anyone wishing to record them complies with obligations under the Data Protection Act had been proposed.
Local government minister Bob Neill has written to local councils to remind them that meetings are already open to the public. It also reassured councils that giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements
in most cases.
BT Broadband and Virgin Media have challenged the government's proposal to block Internet porn arguing that education and parental control are more effective.
Ed Vaizey recently proposed that ISPs block porn for customers unless they opt out of the blocking scheme.
In an online debate hosted by the Daily Telegraph, both companies expressed concern over Vaizey's proposal noting that the plans hadn't been thought through.
They cited defining the boundaries of adult content, responsibility for censorship and a host of practical and legal concerns as thorny issues.
Duncan Higgins, Virgin Media's head of broadband media said that parents need to control what their children view on the web: There needs to be a real drive to getting parents to understand the issue, he said.
Tim O'Sullivan, BT's public affairs director echoed Virgin's stance and said, BT offers parental controls and we believe such controls and education are the best way to approach the issue.
Britain's two major ISPs will reportedly issue new printed and online parental control guides in March. BT broadband users will also have the opportunity to install the company's free Family Protection software.
Those who celebrated the death of New Labour puritanism may yet live to regret its successor: the new Tory obsession with sexualisation . For this is a moral panic that looks set to be even wider in scope, even more
finger-waggingly repressive in effect, than anything the last lot came up with.
Its been coming for a while. The turning point, that is. We've had a decade of new Labour nannying on sex and sexuality. In hindsight, though, that may turn out to have been preferable. For whilst New Labour may have been
concerned with sexual exploitation, they appeared still to believe that once that particular issue had been sorted out, sex, on the whole, was not a bad idea.
Of course, the ultimate exploitation, which government rightly reacted to, was exploitation of children. Yet the battlecry --- think of the children --- now pervades every aspect of our thinking about sex.
Government statement to the House in response to allowing appeals for sex offender registration:
I can tell the House today that the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary will shortly announce the establishment of a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights.
It is time to assert that it is Parliament that makes our laws, not the courts; that the rights of the public come before the rights of criminals; and above all, that we have a legal framework that brings sanity to cases
such as these.
The Ministry of Justice is in consultation about expanding the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to include the advertising censors at the ASA.
The ASA will argue that it should not be covered by the act because it could compromise the goodwill it shares with the advertisers it relies on for funding.
There are also concerns that commercially sensitive information provided to confirm advertising claims may be compromised.
The censor will also argue that it already provides a transparent service.It claims on its website that it tries to be helpful and transparent when answering queries and will provide detailed information and responses wherever possible .
The proposal to add the ASA to the bodies covered by the act will be included in the Freedom Bill. A statutory consultation between the Ministry of Justice and the ASA will follow with a decision expected later this year.
Now the Home Office has destroyed its prototype ID database in a publicity stunt, the government is putting the finishing touches to plans that would put the real Identity Scheme databases at the heart of a powerful government data sharing
The Government Cloud (G-Cloud), an ambitious Cabinet Office scheme to share IT resources and data across the whole of government, is seeking to remove all technical and organisational barriers to public sector data sharing.
Reports published last week by the Cabinet Office describe how G-Cloud will exhume the data sharing systems that underpinned ID Cards, along with the fatal data security risks that went with them. The principles will be applied to all government
data. The plans have been overseen by the same executives who oversaw the ID Scheme's data-sharing system, the ill-fated CISx.
The principle was established a year ago in the G-Cloud Vision, which was drafted by Martin Bellamy, the same civil servant who advised ministers to proceed with the CISx as one of two core components of the ID scheme.
Bellamy's Vision cited the CISx as an example of the sort of data sharing that would be possible within the G-Cloud. The CISx plan had involved turning the Department for Work and Pensions Customer Information System database (CIS), which
contains personal details of everyone in the country, into a system that could be accessed across the whole government.
The Home Office said last week its minister Damian Green had destroyed Labour's ID database. But he only destroyed the temporary system the Home Office erected in a hurry so it could get ID cards on the streets before the 2010 election. It had
still not proceeded with integrating the real ID databases because it was still trying to work out how to resolve their excruciating data security problems.
People who have been put on the sex offenders register for life are set to be given the right to challenge that decision.
It follows last year's Supreme Court ruling that - under human rights laws - offenders in England and Wales should have the opportunity to prove they had reformed and have their names removed from the list.
Home Office officials are examining how a review system would work. Details are expected to be published in the next few months.
Sex offenders are required to register in person at their local police station within 72 hours of being convicted or cautioned. They must give their name, date of birth, home address and national insurance number - if applicable. It may also be a
condition of registration that an offender notify the police if he or she is intending to travel abroad.
Anyone getting a jail term of 30 months to life is subject to an indefinite term of registration - currently there are about 24,000 such offenders in England and Wales. Even a conviction for possessing adult porn under the Dangerous Pictures Act
could attract a lifetime registration requirement.
A sentence of six months to 30 months is accompanied by 10 years on the register and a sentence of under six months requires registration of up to seven years. This includes those cautioned or given a community rehabilitation order.
For those under 18, the length of time on the register is usually half that of the adult term.
The Scottish government has already implemented a scheme to give adults offenders an automatic right of appeal for removal from the register after 15 years - those placed on the register when under 18 years old can appeal after eight years.
Home Secretary Theresa May has said she is appalled by the Supreme Court ruling that sex offenders should have the right to seek to remove their names from the register. She told MPs that the government would make only the minimum
possible changes to meet its human rights obligations. May added that public protection must come first .... [even before justice!]
The promised great bonfire of
repealed Labour laws
Today's Repeal Bill is likely to receive an enthusiastic welcome from Big Brother Watch and a lukewarm endorsement from the Lib Dems. But as the proposal is more closely analysed, a fair few of those cheering now may soon be a good deal more
gloomy; in respect of what has been left out and the fine detail of how freedoms are to be enacted.
A database built to hold the fingerprints and personal details of millions of ID card holders has today been publicly destroyed.
Around 500 hard disk drives and 100 back up tapes containing the details of 15,000 early adopters have been magnetically wiped and shredded.
They will soon be incinerated in an environmentally friendly waste-for-energy process.
This signals an end to the National Identity Register which was built to hold the details of people who applied for an ID card.
The scheme was scrapped by the coalition government and the cards ceased to be valid legal documents on 22 January.
Home Office minister Damian Green helped shred the last of the hard disk drives at an Essex industrial site today.
Laying ID cards to rest demonstrates the government's commitment to scale back the power of the state and restore civil liberties, he said: This is about people having trust in the government to know when it is necessary and appropriate
for the state to hold and use personal data, and it is about the government placing their trust in the common-sense and responsible attitude of people. This is just the first step in the process of restoring and maintaining our freedoms.'
Claire Perry the nutter backbench MP has claimed there is a scary degree of favourable consensus between campaigners, the government and ISPs on introducing internet blocking that would mean internet users would have to opt in to access
Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes, said a meeting on Monday had been very productive . Perry is backing a campaign by Christian groups who fear the influence of the internet on children. They want network-level filters that
would block legal sex sites by default.
Despite her comments about the meeting on Twitter, ISP sources denied they gave any ground to Perry on the issue. They remain opposed to the campaign on both principle and technical grounds.
ISPs favour educating parents and offering software and services that allow them to control access to pornography at home.
Eg BT have announced a new Family Protection desktop package free to account holders, arguing that at this time these [network level] controls can't match the functionality offered by PC-based parental-control software .
Ed Vaizey said: More needs to be done to help parents protect their children and the roundtable was a useful first step.
The nutters of Mediawatch-UK and Safermedia are looking forward to Monday's meeting with government minister Ed Vaizey.
The political campaigners are pushing their demands for ISP blocking with adult material only enabled for those that opt in and verify their age.
Mediawatch rant on about all the worlds ills seemingly down to porn on the internet but don't really consider too much about the practicalities of trying to define a filter to match the needs of all ages from tots to parents.
But Mediawatch-uk have made a little progress they now seem to support the idea that adults are allowed access to porn. Last time this was mentioned they wanted to put people in prison for 3 years for the possession of R18 porn. Mediawatch-UK
wrote on their blog:
We support the proposal for an opt-in system to block adult sites at source unless specifically requested.
Of course once the blocking process is place the next step will be to 'nudge' society pressurising people not to opt in.
According to the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), they together with a number of ISPs have also been invited to the meeting. Representatives of UKCCIS and children's charities will also be present.
I bet they haven't invited anyone to represent the views of the millions of people who enjoy various forms of adult interests on the net..
Ofcom will review sections of the Digital Economy Act to see if they are workable following public comments submitted in the Your Freedom exercise.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to assess whether the Act's reserve powers to enable courts to block websites dedicated to copyright infringement could work.
The site-blocking measures need secondary legislation before they can be introduced and the review will inform the Government's decision on the next steps to take.
Hunt said: The Digital Economy Act seeks to protect our creative economy from online copyright infringement, which industry estimates costs them £400 million a year. I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites
used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content. But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question. Before we consider introducing
site-blocking we need to know whether these measures are possible.
The review will look at areas such as whether it is possible for internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to the sites, how robust such a block could be and whether specific parts of a website can be blocked effectively.
The government announced proposals this week to replace Section 44 stop and search powers with a more tightly defined power .
The proposals are the result of a review of counter-terrorism legislation following a European Court of Human Rights' ruling last year that Section 44 powers were illegal.
The proposals recommend replacing Section 44 with a new power that would allow a senior police officer to make an authorisation for stop and search powers where they have reason to suspect a terrorist attack will take place and searches are
necessary to prevent it .
They also recommend that the maximum period of an authorisation should be reduced from 28 days to 14 and that authorisations can cover a geographical area as wide as necessary to address the threat.
The Home Office claims that the new measures will prevent the misuse of these powers against photographers, but photography trade publications and photojournalists say they are unsure.
Olivier Laurent, news and online editor of the British Journal of Photography said that the review's recommendations fall short of our expectations. Recent cases, as reported by Amateur Photographer and BJP, have shown that
there is still a belief among police forces and security personnel that photographing in a public place is a suspicious act. We look forward for the new legislation and guidance and call on all photographic organisations to help raise awareness,
among police forces and the photographic community, of photographers' rights.
Town halls will be banned from spying on the public over a few trivial crimes such as those associated with rubbish collection and school catchment area rules.
However the majority of minor offences which carry a maximum penalty of a jail term will continue to be subject to intrusive surveillance powers. Councils will have to first seek the formal approval of a magistrate before they are allowed to make
use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
The only exception to the rule – which states an offence must carry a sentence of up to six months or more before RIPA can be applied – will be undercover operations for underage sales of alcohol and tobacco.
As of 22nd January 2011 identity cards can no longer be used to prove identity or to travel in Europe.
The cards have been scrapped by the government under the Identity Documents Act.
Within days the National Identity Register - which was designed to hold the details of card holders - will be destroyed.
Immigration minister Damian Green said:
Laying ID cards to rest demonstrates the government's commitment to scale back the power of the state and restore civil liberties.
It is about the people having trust in the government to know when it is necessary and appropriate for the state to hold and use personal data, and it is about the government placing their trust in the common-sense and
responsible attitude of the people.
The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) (new window) has written to all existing cardholders and informed international border agencies, travel operators and customers of the change in law.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been speaking about increasing censorship requirements for the internet and in particular, internet TV
He spoke after addressing media industry executives at the Oxford Media Convention.
Hunt admitted that while he did not believe it was possible to introduce blanket regulation for the internet, he was keen to put online content rules under scrutiny.
TV content on the internet is subject to lesser regulation than broadcast TV, in particular, that there are no taste and decency or impartiality requirements.
Hunt told reporters: I do want to look at what can be done to strengthen child protection on the internet and whether the structures we have in place are the best way to give reassurance to parents that their children are not going to have
easy access to unsuitable content.
In his address he announced a review of media and communications that will lead to new Communications Act. He explained the timetable:
Over the next few months we will be coming to talk to you; asking for your answers to the key questions that need to be addressed. I want to hear how a new Communications Act can create regulatory certainty.
The certainty that people need to continue to develop and invest in the high-quality technology and content that is made here but enjoyed by consumers all over the world.
I am prepared to radically rethink the way we do things.
To take a fresh look at what we regulate, whether we regulate, and how we regulate. To consider whether there are areas we might move out of regulation altogether. And to think hard about what we mean by public service content.
As parents we want programmes to be suitable for our children. As citizens we want impartial news. And as consumers we want high-quality programmes we know and trust.
Whether we’re watching a broadcast live or though catch-up services, via a TV or a computer, it’s the content that matters, rather than the delivery mechanism.
So should it continue to be the case that the method of delivery has a significant impact on the method of regulation? Or should we be looking at a more platform-neutral approach?
What do we need to do to help our businesses grow and evolve between now and 2025? Where can regulation help and where is it a barrier? What can we do collectively to enhance the whole UK market?
This is not about tweaking the current system, but redesigning it – from scratch if necessary – to make it fit for purpose.
On the basis of what we hear from you, we will publish a Green Paper at the end of the year that will set out the full scope of a Bill.
One that will be put in place in 2015 and that will last for at least a decade.
And to make up for all the banned sexy, fun and opinionated internet content. Hunt proposes to bore us to death with his pet project of a new local TV channel.
Parents often genuinely would rather their kids didn't hear any swearing. But of course that's a forlorn hope and the kids will have heard it all before in abundance. So should the BBFC censor according to parental wishes rather than the reality
I saw The King's Speech yesterday. I really enjoyed it – but the point of this post is that a while back I commented on the fact that Made in Dagenham should have had a 12A certificate (like The
King's Speech ) – and not the 15 rating it got.
I based this on the hearsay knowledge that the f word was used in The King's Speech and was thought to be an integral part of the film – and the film's overall worthiness meant that it should be seen by
12A (ie accompanied by an adult). Having now actually seen this film – I would agree – the use of expletives is integral to this film.
In Made in Dagenham – which is the story of the women workers at Dagenham car plant who fought for equal pay – supported by their male colleagues – and which ultimately led to the Equal Pay Act
– the f word is also used. In my view in this film, the use of the f word is just as integral to the telling of this story as are the expletives in The King's Speech .
The differential in the certification by the British Board of Film Classification (independent body for film certification) means that more and younger folk will be able to see a great film about part of our history –
ie King George VI – but not our great history of the fight for equality.
I am still at a loss to understand the differential certification.
Nick Clegg has made a speech touching on many liberty related threads mentioned on Melon Farmers.
He introduced government intentions:
This nation is built on a faith in fair play. On a historic hostility towards those who seek to impose their will on others. Innocent until proven guilty. Equal before the law. Each individual able to think and speak
without fear of persecution.
So the Coalition Government is going to turn a page on the Labour years: resurrecting the liberties that have been lost; embarking on a mission to restore our great British freedoms.
We aren't wasting any time, and we are ambitious about what we want to achieve. In the next twelve months we want to undo the damage of thirteen years. 2011 will be the year we give people's freedom back.
We'll do it in three key ways.
by reversing the widespread, everyday assaults on liberty that swept across Britain during the Labour years.
by restoring the right balance of liberty and security in the measures taken to tackle terrorism – recognising we can and must have both.
by ending the practices of closed and secretive government; giving people the information and freedom they need to hold us and other institutions to account.
He outlined a timetable for the Freedom Bill and Repeals Bill
Our very first piece of legislation halted ID cards and scrapped the National Identity Register.
ContactPoint – the Government database containing the personal information of every child in England – has been switched off.
We set up Your Freedom, a website to gauge people's views on their liberties, and they flooded-in in their thousands. Views that are now directly shaping Government policy, like work we are doing on reforming the vetting
procedures for volunteers and criminal records checks.
The Secretary of State for Justice now carefully scrutinises all proposals to create new offences to make sure that they are absolutely necessary. This Government won't criminalise behaviour lightly
In the coming weeks we will be publishing our review of counter-terrorism.
By next month we will be putting forward a freedom bill: legislation that will bring together a number of measures, for example to better regulate CCTV; to properly control the way councils use surveillance powers; to limit
the powers of state inspectors to enter into your house; and to end the indefinite storage of innocent people's DNA.
We will also be publishing a draft defamation bill to enhance freedom of speech.
In September, the independent review of the UK's extradition arrangements we commissioned will report.
And Ken Clarke will continue to work on putting together a Repeals Bill to wipe unnecessary and obsolete laws and regulations from the statute book.
So at least the Repeals Bill still gets a mention and that the maybe there was a misunderstanding over its move to the Home Office.
Commentators didn't seem very impressed by Clegg's words about Control Orders. They seem likely to be resurrected as something else a little too similar to what they were before.
Offsite Comment: Nick Clegg's civil liberties speech strikes a welcome blow against libel tourism
Simon Singh, who recently had a run in with back quacks in the libel courts, was impressed by Clegg's speech. He wrote:
So, was Clegg's speech as momentous as the Lib Dem conference vote in 2009, or the Mass Lobby in March 2010, or Lord McNally's commitment in the summer? The simply answer has to be yes .
In just a few minutes, the deputy prime minister highlighted all the key areas of libel that need to be addressed, pointing out that:
We want public-spirited academics and journalists to be fearless in publishing legitimate research. Not least when it relates to medical care or public safety. The test of a free press is its capacity to unearth the
truth, exposing charlatans and vested interests along the way. It is simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence by the prospect of costly legal battles with wealthy individuals and big businesses.
British David Cameron and his yellow sidekicks have managed the remarkable feat of replacing nanny with an even more freedom-loathing, brain-invading political creed: nudging. Their desire to nudge the populace towards good
behaviour makes New Labour's bossy prudery seem almost liberal and level-headed in comparison.
This year is likely to be the Year of the Nudge, the year of politicians using all kinds of Derren Brown-style mind-trickery to try to coax or cajole or hoodwink the people of Britain into adopting a state-approved lifestyle
– that is, a healthy-eating, bike-riding, beer-avoiding lifestyle.
The Lib-Cons have a Behavioural Insight Team inside Downing Street. Inspired and advised by Richard Thaler, co-author of the phenomenally successful book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health and Happiness ,
the team aims not only to change people's behaviour but to change the way citizens think (to quote Clegg himself).
As yesterday's Independent reported, it will use various mental techniques and psychological tricks to alter our behaviour
A new unit looking at alternative ways to influence public behaviour and choices is taking shape in the Cabinet Office.
The behavioural insight team, based in the Cabinet Office, was set up in July 2010 to look at ways to solve policy challenges using theories of behavioural economics, which considers the factors that influence individuals' choices.
The team will include civil servants and external advisers including Paul Dolan and Richard Thaler, authors of the influential book Nudge , and will be led by David Halpern, director of research at the Institute for Government.
It is being supported by a cross-government steering group, which includes David Cameron's director of strategy Steve Hilton, and is chaired by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell.
O'Donnell announced the creation of the unit saying the team was being brought together to harness some of the best ideas and thinking from behavioural economics and translate those into practical solutions around key policy challenges such as
public health and environmental behaviour .