David Cameron and his most senior aides face being forced to open up their private email accounts to see if they contain details of sensitive government business hidden from the Civil Service.
A meeting of permanent secretaries has discussed ordering a trawl of personal email accounts held by Cameron, senior aides and government ministers to see if they contain messages which fall within the remit of the Freedom of Information
Act, The Independent understands.
Last night a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office, which polices the Act, confirmed that information in private emails could fall within the scope of the Act if they pertained to government business.
NUK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has delivered a speech, calling on net firms, advertisers and credit card companies to cut ties with websites that link to unlawful content.
In a speech to the Royal Television Society, he said he wanted to make it harder for such sites to prosper.
Ideally the government would like to see Google remove pirate sites from its search engine completely. But Google's response suggested this was unlikely. Without a court order, any copyright owner can already use our removals process to inform
us of copyright infringing content and have it removed from Google Search, the firm said in a statement.
In his speech, Hunt denied that blocking access to pirated content was an attack on net neutrality:
Unlawfully distributing copyrighted material is theft - and a direct assault on the freedoms and rights of creators of content to be rewarded fairly for their efforts
We do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the High Street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products. Likewise we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites
that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright.
Hunt outlined measures for the new Communications Act which is due to become law towards the end of the current Parliament in 2015.
A cross-industry body, perhaps modelled on the Internet Watch Foundation, to be charged with identifying infringing websites against which action could be taken
A streamlined legal process to make it possible for the courts to act quickly
A responsibility on search engines and ISPs to take reasonable steps to make it harder to access sites that a court has deemed contain unlawful content or promote unlawful distribution of content
A responsibility on advertisers to take reasonable steps to remove their advertisements from these sites
A responsibility on credit card companies and banks to remove their services from these sites.
Jim Killock, chief executive of the Open Rights Group, said the proposals set a dangerous precedent:
It is pretty dangerous to ask credit card companies or Google to decide who is guilty.
Once again Mr Hunt has listened to the lobbyists and has made no attempt to work out the scale of the problem. We are back where we were with the DEA, which is proving unworkable and an expensive nightmare.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has written about the contents of the next Comms Act. He outlined several of the measures in a speech to the Royal Television Society.
On topic of internet blocking of 'offensive' content he said:
When it comes to accessing material that can offend taste and decency standards in their own home, we should put consumers firmly in the driving seat.
We won't water down existing protections on traditional media, the watershed is here to stay, and I welcome the progress made by both the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and also by ISPs who have just completed work on a draft code of
practice on parental controls.
But I think we need to go further.
I will therefore consider including in the new Comms Act an obligation on ISPs to ensure all their customers make an active choice about parental controls, either at the point of purchase, or the point of account activation.
One of the unanswered questions arising from the August riots is whether the government needs new powers to block the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media which were used to organise the disturbances.
Prime Minister David Cameron suggested, in the immediate aftermath of the rioting, that blocking the use of social networking communications was a policy option that was to be urgently discussed with telecommunications
operators (and then implemented as a priority).
So when the Home Office says (as it has done) that no new powers are needed, then it follows that either no new powers are needed (ie, the government already has the power to block social networking communications) or the
politicians have quietly gone off the idea (and have decided not to say so).
If I was having a bet, I think ministers might be considering the powers in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This is because the definition of an emergency -- which is required to trigger use of the Act's draconian
powers -- clearly includes a riot, as a riot could cause serious damage to human welfare, to property and threaten lives.
Additionally, where the issue is urgent , then the Civil Contingencies Act's powers can be exercised by ministers without resort to Parliament. Although urgency is understandable in times of a crisis, these
urgency provisions also minimise Parliamentary scrutiny of their use at the critical time that the powers are exercised.
Theresa May met with bosses of social network sites in Westminster to discuss whether users should be blocked if they are plotting to riot or commit crimes
David Cameron's plan to shut down social networking sites to prevent disorder was ditched in a humiliating U-turn.
The Home Secretary Theresa May firmly killed off the prospect of any clampdown in the face of opposition from human rights groups and social networking companies.
In a summit with Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, the Home Secretary indicated that Cameron's plan did not even merit discussion.
She told the firms that she was not there to talk about restricting internet services. Instead May appealed for help, seeking advice on how law enforcement could more effectively use social media.
Social networking firms are said to have advised police to employ internet monitoring firms to help keep an eye on public chatter on the web.
The Government's retreat came after leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Index on Censorship, wrote to the Home Secretary voicing strong concerns about a possible clampdown. The coalition of ten human rights and free
speech advocates said:
Dear Home Secretary,
We are writing to you regarding discussions scheduled to take place between the Government and some social network and communications providers following the recent civil unrest. We noted the Prime Minister's suggestion
that the Government will look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
We believe that Twitter, Research in Motion and Facebook have been invited to meet you to discuss this issue. As you know, there is existing legislation regulating the interception and disclosure of communications
information, the use of communications evidence by law enforcement and restrictions on people's use of communications technology.
It is reasonable to review the existing legal regime to ensure that it appropriately fits new technologies. However, turning off, restricting or monitoring people's communications networks are matters that require extreme
care and open, detailed deliberation.
We are very concerned that new measures, made in good faith but in a heated political environment, will overextend powers in ways that would be susceptible to abuse, restrict legitimate, free communication and expression
and undermine people's privacy. This is especially so if proposals involve unaccountable voluntary arrangements between law enforcement and communications providers.
It is essential that any review of regulations covering communications networks happens through a public consultation, with full details of meetings between the Government and social network platforms made public as soon as
possible. This should involve a genuine multi-stakeholder process that includes not only the communications providers but groups representing broader citizens' rights such as freedom of expression and privacy.
We would like to request a meeting to discuss these issues, and look forward to engaging with you further.
Index on Censorship
Open Rights Group
China has ordered a widespread crackdown on the internet in attempts to prevent uprisings like those seen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The secretary of the Communist Party, Liu Qi has warned ISPs that they must tighten control of online content to prevent the spread of fake and harmful information and that the internet companies should resist such information, the
Associated Press reports.
It's not clear how the Chinese government expects the ISPs to control content online, but it's likely that it wants them to monitor people's online activities and disconnect those participating in the spread of dissenting views. Penalties for
non-compliance could be to shut down the ISP altogether.
The government-approved Beijing Internet Media Association also called on its 104 members to police the internet for rumors or vulgar contents , saying that the public should be led toward a correct direction - the proper direction
being support of the government, of course.
China's equivalent of Twitter, Sina, which has over 140 million users, has been a particular focus of censorship. The company has been forced to monitor users, with over 100 employees checking for dissenting views 24 hours a day. Of course, with
such a large user base it might be impossible to censor everything.
This latest move marks one of the strictest crackdowns on internet freedom so far, which could cause even more upset and dissent amongst its citizens.
Twitter and Facebook to resist government censorship
Facing the first true threats of censorship from the Western world, Facebook and Twitter appear ready for a fight. The major social networks are expected to offer no concessions when they meet the home secretary, Theresa May, at a Home Office
summit on Thursday, the Guardian reports.
In the wake of riots and looting across England, government ministers have called for a ban on social networks during times of civil unrest. Prime Minister David Cameron has also asked that suspected rioters be banned from social networks.
The home secretary is expected to explore what measures the major social networks could take to help contain disorder -- including how law enforcement can more effectively use the sites -- rather than discuss powers to shut them down, according to the Guardian.
Facebook and Twitter are expected to strongly warn the government against introducing emergency measures that could usher in a new form of online censorship, the Guardian reports.
The Authority for Television On Demand is a supposedly independent co-regulator for the editorial content of UK video on demand services. However the government seems to be in the driving seat when it comes to restricting access to porn.
ATVOD is not formally subject to Freedom of Information law, but is listed on WhatDoTheyKnow.com due to its public regulatory role.
Here's a post from the Chinese News Agency Xinhua:
Apparently rioters used social media, like Twitter, Facebook and the Blackberry messenger system and Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday he's looking at banning potential troublemakers from using the online services.
The British government, once an ardent advocate of absolute Internet freedom, has thus made a U-turn over its stance towards web-monitoring.
In a speech delivered in Kuwait in February, the British prime minister, however, argued that freedom of expression should be respected in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square.
This is sheer hypocrisy on the UK government's part, and completely undermines its ability to criticise any other country - like China - for blocking access to the Internet or instituting online censorship.
If you take these steps, what separates you from the Saudi government demanding the ability to listen to and restrict its BBM networks? What separates you from Arab tyrannies cutting off social communication via Twitter or
from China banning it?
T here is no shortage of examples that demonstrate how repressive governments have seized on the riots as an opportunity to rebuke Britain. As soon as riots broke out, Iranian officials demanded that the U.K. government
exercise restraint in dealing with rioters, offered to send a delegation to investigate human rights violations, and complained that the U.N. had been silent about the situation. In Russia, there have been comparisons between the riots and
the protests in Libya. An opinion article in China's official People's Daily newspaper referred to the riots as a case in which the West is tasting the bitter fruit after championing Internet freedom. Syria has also accused your government
In light of such defiance of the U.K.'s moral authority on human rights, we urge you to clarify the intent behind your statement, spell out any planned actions you may take, and reaffirm your government's commitment to
protecting free expression. Failure to do so would gravely undermine global efforts to defend human rights and would provide authoritarian regimes with arguments they will use to justify censorship and surveillance.
Legalised sodomy and pornography and moral-free sex education
David Cameron has identified the causes of the riots and looting this week in Britain. It is a lack of responsibility, which comes from a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a
lack of proper morals. It is as much a moral problem as a political problem, he has said.
We must give him full marks for stating the blindingly obvious. People behave well for one of two reasons; either they have the fear of God before their eyes, or the fear of the long arm of the law. In other words, either
an internal or an external moral compass is necessary for good behaviour.
But who defines good behaviour ?
David Cameron blames the parents ('a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing'), but does he realise that 50% of children are growing up in Britain without their natural father?
Who is responsible for that if it isn't the politicians who legalised no-fault divorce on demand in the 1960s, legalised sodomy and pornography, brought in moral-free sex education around the same time and pushed condoms at
teenagers just because they hated Christian morality?
And who is equally responsible if not the present Coalition Government which allows all of that to continue on its life-destroying way, not seeing any of it as an offence against proper morals ?
Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to explore ways to halt the use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger if these were being used to plot violence, disorder and criminality.
All three have been implicated in rioters' ability to communicate since the violence began in London on Saturday. A solemn David Cameron addressing the House of Commons about the riots
The Government and the intelligence agencies MI5 and GCHQ are in talks with mobile phone companies and internet service providers about how they might prevent gang leaders from co-ordinating looting raids using social
Senior sources said that among the options they are considering are turning off mobile phone masts in riot areas or shutting down the accounts of known suspects when trouble starts.
Social media is being targeted as there is no straight-forward way for police to cut off individual's phones at short notice.
Technology blogger for Msnbc Rosa Golijan said the Government had three options to prevent rioters from using social media; banning individuals from social media sites, black-listing certain web-pages in the way the China
does, or temporarily shutting down the internet.
Surely turning off the internet would be enough to cause a riot in the streets
This report concerns the protection of children from hard core pornography on UK- based video on demand services1 . The government is concerned that under the current UK legislation these protections may not be adequate.
On 1 April 2010, DCMS wrote to Ofcom about the new legislation for UK-based video on demand services (implementing European law), which for the first time impose certain minimum requirements on regulated UK-based video on demand services
In particular, the legislation introduces minimum requirements on the provision of potentially harmful material in VOD services. The relevant section of the Communications Act (368E(2)) states that:
If an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which
secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it .
DCMS raised concerns as to whether this provision would in practice provide sufficient safeguards to protect children from sexually explicit material, or whether greater safeguards might be appropriate for such material which is made available
over VOD Services.
DCMS considered in its letter to Ofcom that a precautionary approach would be justified. This was because such an approach:
would be generally supported by the public, given the nature of the material in question and the need to protect minors
would be consistent with the tough constraints which Parliament has already placed on the distribution of sexually explicit material in hard copy form as a film or a DVD (i.e. material classified as R18 by the British Board of Film
would also be consistent with the approach Ofcom has taken on the provision of this material on television under its Broadcasting Code.
In DCMS's view, there is plainly an argument for concluding that on-demand programme services, which are capable of being accessed by children and young people at home round the clock, require sufficient safeguards.
Evidence relating to harm
In light of the Government's clearly stated intentions, we commissioned research to inform our response to DCMS.
A review was commissioned from Dr Guy Cumberbatch, an independent expert in the effects of media, especially on young people.This looked at the available evidence on the risk of harm from R18 material. The review updates the review of the
research literature in this area conducted for Ofcom by Dr Ellen Helsper of the London School of Economics ( LSE ) in 2005.
Guy Cumberbatch's main conclusions are consistent with the conclusions of the 2005 review. Firstly, that the research does not provide conclusive evidence that R18 material might seriously impair minors' development. Secondly, the research
does not provide clear, conclusive evidence of a lesser degree of harm. It is acknowledged that the research is by its nature limited given there are significant ethical constraints about conducting experiments which expose children to this type
of material and monitor their development for signs of potential harm.
However, some experts believe that there is evidence that exposure of minors to R18 material can have adverse effects. In short, this area remains highly controversial and in light of these considerations, it cannot be confidently concluded that
sexually explicit material carries no risk of harm to the development of minors.
Guy Cumberbatch's report has been peer reviewed by Dr Sonia Livingstone of the LSE's Department of Media and Communications.
Conclusions and recommendations
In reaching a view in response to DCMS's request as to whether greater safeguards might be appropriate for the protection of children in this important and controversial area, Ofcom considered both R18 material and also material stronger than
R18. It took account of the following important considerations.
In relation to R18 material, these considerations are:
that the evidence for children being caused harm by exposure to R18 material is inconclusive and the research is necessarily limited by the ethical constraints of exposing children and young people to sexually explicit material
Ofcom has a statutory duty under Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 to further the interests of citizens and consumers and in doing so, to have regard to the vulnerability of children (and others whose circumstances appear to Ofcom to put
them in need of special protection)
that the public (including parents) consider that whilst those who wish to should have access to pornography, access to this material should be restricted in such a way that children cannot see it
the range of approaches in Europe as regards implementing the might seriously impair obligation in the Directive, and the number of countries that have relied on other legislation (existing or new) to restrict access to sexually explicit
material on VOD
the lack of any test case under current UK law establishing whether R18 promotional material supplied over the internet is obscene (i.e. has a tendency to deprave and corrupt its likely audience), but noting also that according to
the Crown Prosecution Service ( CPS ) (Legal Guidance to prosecutors) , it is possible that the publication of such material, provided it is sufficiently explicit and is freely accessible, is capable of being prosecuted as obscene
and therefore a criminal offence under the Obscene Publications Act [Although it is noted later in the report that no such prosecution has ever actually been attempted].
the desirability in the public interest of giving children appropriate protection from highly unsuitable material
the absence in the current regulations of a clear standard requiring sexually explicit material of R18 standard (or its equivalent) to be prohibited, in VOD services, unless it is made subject to restrictions;
the Government's clear intention to ensure protection of children from sexually explicit material on UK-based VOD services
the value of adopting a precautionary approach to protecting minors from the risk of harm from accessing R18 material (and material stronger than R18) on UK- based VOD services. There is clear evidence that the public (and in particular
parents) support a precautionary approach.
In relation to material stronger than R18 we had regard to the following considerations:
content stronger than R18 material encompasses a wide variety of unclassified material which cannot legally be supplied in the UK in licensed sex shops and includes abusive and/or violent pornography, examples of which have been held to be
obscene and a criminal offence to provide, if accessible by children
this material is acknowledged to be potentially harmful or very harmful to adults, particularly those who are vulnerable
yet the current legislation does not clearly prohibit it from VOD Services.
In summary, Ofcom's opinion is that taking into account:
all the considerations set out in this report, including the evidence relating to harm
DCMS's clearly stated intention to ensure the protection of children
the desire for certainty in this important and controversial area
the legislative protections currently in place are not sufficiently clear to provide that certainty. Greater safeguards should therefore be put in place.
We recommend the Government introduce new legislation which would specifically:
prohibit R18 material from being included in UK-based VOD services unless appropriate mandatory restrictions are in place
prohibit altogether from UK-based VOD services material whose content the BBFC would refuse to classify i.e. material stronger than R18.
Ed Vaizey wrote to Ed Richards of Ofcom on the subject of restricting hardcore Video on Demand:
SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL AND VIDEO ON DEMAND SERVICES
Ofcom produced a report on this last autumn and our officials have subsequently discussed the best way forward in the light of the recommendations of the Ofcom report, the policy position taken by ATVOD to require access
controls to any such material and Government policy generally on access to potentially harmful material, including work in UKCCIS and the current Communications Review.
Like you, we are quite clear that children should not have access to hard-core pornography on ATVOD-regulated video-on-demand services. The current rules put in place by ATVOD requiring access controls on such material
should remain in place.
As ATVOD regulates only a comparatively small number of services available over the Internet, our wider approach to protecting children from potentially harmful material is being taken forward by the UK Council for Child
Internet Safety (UKCCIS), building on the commitments made in our industry round-tables. We are committed to making progress in this area, preferably through industry action, but if necessary through legislation. Any necessary legislation is best
taken forward in the forthcoming Communications Bill.
Your report examined the current UK regulations, transposing the requirement in the Audiovisual Media Services Directive that VOD material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors
[is] only made available in such a way that ensures that minors will not normally hear or see [it] (which means in effect that this content must generally be encrypted). Department for Culture, Media and Sport
What concerned us was whether that requirement would provide sufficient safeguards to protect children from material equivalent to that classified by the BBFC at R18 and suitable for sale on DVD only in licensed sex shops.
Our policy aim was that such material should not be made available in ways accessible to children on those UK-based VOD services which fell to be regulated under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
The Ofcom report concluded that this was an area in which it was probably impossible to get conclusive evidence of harm and that it was Ofcom's view that, in the absence of such evidence, there was a case for taking a
precautionary approach and indeed seeking a legislative opportunity to provide a more certain legal basis for requiring access controls to protect children.
In the meantime, of course, ATVOD's rules have continued to require access controls to prevent children's access to R18 material on regulated sites – as we understand it, this generally at present takes the form of short
video sequences promoting hard- core pornography sites which can be accessed in full only after supplying credit card details.
The Ofcom review considered two main areas of content. The principal one, and the one on which the Department had sought your advice in particular, was the availability of hard-core pornography with content equivalent to
that which would be classified by the BBFC as suitable to the R18 category in DVD format. However, the report noted that there may also be material for which the BBFC would refuse a classification but which would not necessarily be illegal to
distribute to adults.
All such material is prohibited by Ofcom on licensed broadcasting services and is allowed on VOD services regulated by ATVOD only when access controls are in place to prevent access by children. Outside the small number of
regulated services, such material is known to be widely available on the Internet and that is why Ministers have given priority to working with ISPs to allow parents to make an active choice as to whether they want such material to be available
to their household. The wider application of this policy by ISPs, and the use of effective parental controls by parents, would do much to minimise the accessibility of hard-core pornography, and worse, by children on all on-demand services.
The questions addressed by the Ofcom report were therefore whether, on the small number of on-demand services regulated by ATVOD, where additional controls could be put in place under the AVMS Directive, the Regulations
provided an adequate level of protection for children from material equivalent to R18 by offering a secure legal basis on which to require access controls. Department for Culture, Media and Sport
We remain of the view - like you - that there is a good case that the Regulations require a precautionary approach in that the test is whether material might be seriously harmful rather than that it necessarily is
demonstrably harmful. However we accept that, in the light of Ofcom's recommendation, it would be preferable to provide legal certainty to ensure that the ATVOD rules are robust, in case of future legal challenge, and the protection for children
In these circumstances, and given the wider policy context, it seems to us that these issues would be best addressed comprehensively in the Communications Review. We would appreciate it if Ofcom, with ATVOD, would take any
steps necessary in the interim period to ensure that children remained adequately protected under the ATVOD rules, in the knowledge that we could bring forward Regulations in the short term if it proved necessary to support this position.
Ofcom have recently written a report, Site Blocking to reduce online copyright infringement, as part of a feasibility study into measures contained in the Digital Economy Act.
For the moment Ofcom has come out against the use of website blocking and explained some of the difficulties in the report. Particularly the current ease with which both websites and readers may circumvent current blocking techniques.
According to The Register, the Department of Media, Culture and Sport weren't too impressed by Ofcom letting the public be aware of the limitations of current website blocking technologies and asked Ofcom to censor the information.
Ofcom deleted the offending but some of the censored information was left in the document presumably in the document history. It was published and some clever people were able to restore the deleted text. Ofcom have now properly implemented the
censorship but not before it was published on scribd and internet commentators had pointed out some of the sensitive work rounds to site blocking techniques. eg:
Websites providing encrypted access to their websites via SSL/HTTPS
Websites using a network port other than the usual port 80
Websites changing the IP address and bypassing the network routing announcements
Websites registering a new domain name and letting users know via email and social networking
Websites using page naming to defeat individual page blocking perhaps by having arbitrary search strings that lead to the blocked page
Readers using Virtual Private Networking (VPN)
Readers using anonymous web proxies
In general the authorities are not going to be very keen on large numbers of internet users being encouraged to use hard to monitor web routings that make life difficult for policing the net for more serious issues.
A government e-petition website has gone live, showing petitions that have been accepted for consideration for debate in the Commons.
The leader of the house, Sir George Young, has said petitions that garner more than 100,000 signatures should warrant consideration for debate.
Speaker John Bercow is supporting the move, privately complaining the current written petition system is little understood and appreciated. Once received, written petitions, he points out, are put in a plastic bag behind the Speaker's chair, a
fate he claims speaks volumes about the seriousness with which petitions are taken.
Bercow is understood to be flexible about how parliament should be seen to be responding to an e-petition garnering big support. He does not necessarily think every issue should be considered at a full-length debate, but might simply require a
minister to come to the house and answer a question on the issue.
It is widely expected that supporters of capital punishment, immigration controls, withdrawal from Europe and opposition to green taxes will initially dominate. An e-petition will only be allowed to stay on the website for a year, and duplicates
will not be allowed.
The system replaces a previous system set up by Tony Blair's aides on the Downing Street website, which was suspended before the 2010 general election. Then there was no requirement for Downing Street to do anything formal in response to an
Update: E-Petitions shunted into the sidings
Oops the out of touch government doesn't want to talk about what the people want to talk about.
David Cameron's pledge to allow the public to choose topics for parliamentary debates is being watered down following a series of political embarrassments, Westminster sources have claimed.
Ministers have discussed increasing the number of online signatures needed before a petition is considered for a Commons debate from 100,000 to 150,000. Some debates generated by e-petitions have been moved away from the main chamber to the
lower-profile Westminster Hall where they are not put to a vote.
Critics claim that some of Cameron's biggest political problems have been exacerbated by e-petitions, which are open to the public on a government website. Last month, 81 Tory MPs defied a three-line whip to endorse a motion generated online that
called for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. On Tuesday, a motion on fuel prices, sparked by another e-petition, forced the government to come to a compromise with Tory MPs to head off a rebellion.
Repressive controls to prevent children from accessing hard-core pornographic material through video-on-demand (VoD) services will be secured as part of the comprehensive review of communications legislation currently being undertaken,
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey has announced.
Rules are already in place which mean that video which the BBFC would classify as R18, pornography which is explicit and sold in licensed sex shops, but not illegal, can be made available through VoD services only if excessively restrictive
controls are in place to prevent children from accessing it.
The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) is the internet censor for VoD services and enforces rukles which ensure that any material which 'may' seriously impair children's physical, mental or moral development, but probably doesn't must not
be freely available. Access controls such as pin protection must be put in place if R18-type content is to be made available on anytime television services or internet websites that include video.
But, in the light of an Ofcom report which recommended a precautionary approach to protecting children and new legislation, the Government has committed to securing the present controls and looking at whether the legal position should be
bolstered further by future-proofing legislation as part of the current review of communications policy.
The Government is clear that children must be protected from harmful content, on television or online. We have made it a priority to address the concerns of parents that their kids are being exposed to material that's not
appropriate for them to see.
Without a doubt we want to make sure that video-on-demand services carrying adult material cannot be seen by children and it's already a legal requirement that any such content has access controls.
But the communications review gives us an opportunity to consider whether there's more we should do to ensure children remain protected and to limit access to potentially harmful material, such as introducing unclassified
material into the statutory framework.
The review will look at the availability of both R18-type material, and video content which is stronger than that classified as R18 by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) but still might be made available to adults.
Ensuring the effectiveness of restrictive controls on VoD services will also complement the recommendations made by Reg Bailey in his independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, Letting Children Be Children.
Government minister Jeremy Hunt wrote an open letter of 16 May 2011 on 'A Communications Review for the Digital Age'. This included the question:
Q13. Where has self- and co-regulation worked successfully and what can be learnt from specific approaches? Where specific approaches haven't worked, how can the framework of content regulation be made sufficiently coherent
and not create barriers to growth, but at the same time protect citizens and enable consumer confidence?
Ruth Evans replied as chair of ATVOD:
As you would expect, the answer we are in a particularly good position to answer concerns models of self and co-regulation in the content arena:
Co- and self-regulation are particularly appropriate in rapidly developing sectors where the nature of services and the scope of potential consumer protection is subject to frequent change. Our experience is that
co-regulation of video on demand services has proved capable of yielding nimble, economical solutions and the promise of establishing a broad consensus around light touch regulation. In our short life we have worked through some complex issues
with the industry (e.g. the scope of the Regulations and determining where to draw the line on the protection of children from harmful content) in an efficient manner and have delivered more equitable funding arrangements for our second year,
with concessionary rates for small scale providers and new market entrants.
We have taken a definitive stance on what video material might seriously harm children (and therefore an ODPS must make provisions so that children cannot access the material) and we suggest that in the area of child protection online some rules
might benefit from greater clarity and certainty, building on the guidance we have determined.
The UK must not lose sight of the fact that the global nature of services accessible via the internet presents special challenges in respect of editorial regulation of VOD services. We are unable to regulate services sitting outside the UK which
are accessible to UK internet users. We suggest that a combination of action in respect of services which are subject to ATVOD regulation and action by other internet intermediaries in support of parents will be necessary going forward. Action
such as promoting use of filtering tools and greater awareness of the risks and protections that exist online will be important and complimentary to pure regulatory activity. Consideration should also be given by Government to what can done to
harmonise actions on an international level in this regard.
What ATVOD really means is that it has invented a very expensive censorial regime for practically every website with video based in the UK, and for no benefit to them whatsoever. ATVOD has also imposed an almost impenetrable barrier to trade on
all British adult sites that include hardcore video.
Websites that encourage people to commit suicide or make death pacts with strangers must be closed down, ministers will insist this week.
In the absence of any official organisation to monitor such websites, ISPs are to be told they have an obligation to shut down these chatrooms and forums, as part of the Government's suicide prevention strategy.
Promoting suicide is already outlawed under the 1961 Suicide Act, but this has never been used to prosecute a website operator. Officials say the law does not apply only to face-to-face meetings, and should be enforced more rigorously if
companies fail to shut down offending websites.
Health Minister Paul Burstow said:
One of the nastier sides of social media is the emergence of websites which are almost coaching people into how to commit suicide and offering the possibility of pacts with other people to commit suicide -- really evil
Websites begin in a therapeutic way - I think because the people who run them think it's a place for people to share how they feel when they are very low and don't have much hope in life.
Then they move from being therapeutic to being supportive, a friend network. But the end result is it becomes a closed circle... nobody on those websites is going to confess to anybody outside.
It becomes a depressive circle of people talking about all types of things, which give them knowledge - because the sites give you various ways of taking life if that is the decision you chose - and friendship with people
thinking the same way.
They use all kinds of words like 'Catching the bus or Making the journey - slang words - other people might not understand.'
The government's review of the premature sexualisation of young people could make matters worse, exacerbating the very problem it is supposed to tackle.
That was the unanimous view of a group of experts in this field, whose letter setting out their concerns was published yesterday in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
They criticise the review on three key grounds:
it will make it harder for young people to speak about sex, so increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and unwanted sex;
by making girls' sexuality -- and female modesty -- a key issue, the review is adding yet further to the pressures to conform on young girls: although if the report is to be believed, it is those pressures that are already causing significant
harm to girls;
the review appears to have taken little account of existing research: it has ignored areas where real risks to young people has been previously identified (health, housing, poverty and education) and focuses instead on an area -- sexualisation
-- which is poorly defined and for which it fails to provide any meaningful measures.
Above all, those critical of the report point out, many academics and researchers with a known track record in this area offered their services to the government in respect of the Bailey Review -- and were turned down. It is their hope that in
future, government will be better prepared to listen.