When the Department of Education last week released the results of its public consultation on whether or not pornography should be automatically banned by internet providers, the overriding message was clear. There was no great appetite among parents
for the introduction of default filtering of the internet, the Department declared. What parents wanted, instead, was the option to filter content and better knowledge of how to do that in order to protect their children from online porn.
After months of threatening internet providers with an automatic porn ban, the Government seemed to relent and recognise that policing the internet was primarily a job for parents, not the state. Yet in the course of just a few days Downing Street
appears to have swung back the other way after receiving a mauling in the Daily Mail.
Cameron envisages is a system whereby anyone installing a new computer at home and connects to the web will be asked whether there are any children in the home. If there are, parents will be automatically required to tailor their internet blocking. If a
parent skips too quickly through the filter process the highest restrictions will automatically remain in place. It will be the job of internet providers, rather than computer manufacturers, to come up with the blocking software.
Downing Street officials insisted that the announcement was not a U-turn on porn filters and that Cameron's announcement was simply a way of illustrating what the Government has planned to give parents more control. But the onus is nonetheless firmly
placed on internet providers to come up with mandatory blocking with Whitehall sources indicating that a legislative backstop would be brought in they refused to co-operate.
That has caused concern among web providers, most of whom already offer content filters to their customers as a matter of course. One source involved in negotiations with the Government described Cameron's announcement as an example of goal posts
being moved .
This is a back-of-the-fag-packet policy reversal announced after the Government's own public consultation decided just a week ago that further filtering wouldn't work, said Jim Killock, from Open Rights Group, which campaigns against digital
Nick Pickles, from the Big Brother Watch, added: Mr Cameron seems to be suggesting a combination of network filtering and device filtering that isn't even available at the moment, let alone possible. The danger here is it will alienate the ISPs who
thought they'd been involved in the consultation process.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has published interim guidelines setting out the approach prosecutors should take in cases involving communications sent via social media.
The guidelines are designed to give clear advice to prosecutors and ensure a consistency of approach across the CPS to these types of cases.
These interim guidelines are intended to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law.
They make a clear distinction between communications which amount to credible threats of violence, a targeted campaign of harassment against an individual or which breach court orders on the one hand, and other communications sent by social media, e.g.
those that are grossly offensive, on the other.
The first group will be prosecuted robustly whereas the second group will only be prosecuted if they cross a high threshold; a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide
audience or not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.
The interim guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to
those subjected to it.
We want the interim guidelines to be as fully informed as possible, which is why we held a series of roundtable discussions and meetings with Twitter, Facebook, Liberty and other stakeholders, police and regulators, victim groups, academics, journalists
and bloggers, lawyers and sports organisations ahead of drafting them. I would now encourage everyone with an interest in this matter to give us their views by responding to the public consultation.
As part of their initial assessment, prosecutors are now required to distinguish between:
Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence
Communications which may constitute harassment or stalking
Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order
Communications which do not fall into any of the above categories and fall to be considered separately i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.
Those offences falling within the first three categories should, in general, be prosecuted robustly under the relevant legislation, for example the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), where the test set out in the Code for Crown
Prosecutors is satisfied.
Cases which fall within the final category will be subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest.
The high threshold
Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 engage Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, therefore prosecutors are reminded that they must be interpreted
consistently with the free speech principles in Article 10.
Prosecutors are also reminded that what is prohibited under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 is the sending of a communication that is grossly offensive. They should
only proceed with cases involving such an offence where they are satisfied that the communication in question is more than:
Offensive, shocking or disturbing; or
Satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment; or
The expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
The public interest
In line with the free speech principles in Article 10, no prosecution should be brought unless it can be shown on its own facts and merits to be both necessary and proportionate.
A prosecution is unlikely to be both necessary and proportionate where:
a) The suspect has swiftly taken action to remove the communication or expressed genuine remorse;
b) Swift and effective action has been taken by others, for example service providers, to remove the communication in question or otherwise block access to it;
c) The communication was not intended for a wide audience, nor was that the obvious consequence of sending the communication; particularly where the intended audience did not include the victim or target of the communication in
d) The content of the communication did not obviously go beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in an open and diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.
The age and maturity of suspect should be given significant weight, particularly if they are under the age of 18. Children may not appreciate the potential harm and seriousness of their communications and as such prosecutions of
children are rarely likely to be in the public interest.
The Daily Mail is claiming a victory in spurring David Cameron into supporting its cause in getting parents to opt for internet blocking albeit not the
overly blunt default ISP blocking. (But the Daily Mail clearly aren't quite fully committed to the anti-sexualisation cause. They have done a fine job traumatising all the 'sensitive' young girls who worry that they will never be as sexy as
Kate Moss in bikini showing a bit of nipple)
In an article for the Daily Mail, the Prime Minister says it is utterly appalling that so many children have been exposed to the darkest corners of the internet, adding: A silent attack on innocence is under way in our country today and
I am determined that we fight it with all we've got.
He announces that Conservative MP Claire Perry is to be appointed as his adviser on reversing the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. She will be in charge of implementing the new web blocking system, which will also require internet
providers to check the age of the person setting controls.
Cameron explained why he does not go along with the idea of default ISP blocking.
Some might ask why, then, this Government has not taken the route of default on filters for new computers, so that each one that is bought comes with blanket filters for all unsuitable content. There's a simple reason why we haven't done this: all
the evidence suggests such a crude system wouldn't work very well in practice. With the system, when people switch on their new computer, a question will pop up asking if there are children in the house. If there are, then parents will be automatically
prompted to tailor their internet filters
With the system, when people switch on their new computer, a question will pop up asking if there are children in the house. If there are, then parents will be automatically prompted to tailor their internet filters (posed by model)
Take the experience of one parent I met. She has a tablet computer which her young daughter sometimes plays games on. It's got straightforward on/off filters, so she turned the filter on to protect her daughter.
However, the filters were so wide-ranging that she then found she couldn't access things like TV stations on demand; they were blocked too.
The result? She just switched the filter off again, as it was becoming annoying.
The point is we need a more sophisticated system than this -- one that allows parents to tailor exactly what their children can see.
Ministers are understood to have imposed a timetable on internet providers, who will be required to produce detailed plans by February on ensuring that all parents are giving the option of imposing filters.
Cameron says that when people switch on a new computer, they will be asked if there are children in the house -- and if they answer yes, they will be automatically prompted to tailor internet filters. They will include options to block particular kinds
of content, individual sites or restrict access at specific times of the day. If parents click through the options to set up a new system quickly, filters against pornography and self-harm sites will be automatically left on.
Perry said effective checks on the age of a person setting up filters -- probably using credit card details and the electoral roll -- would be vital to ensure children could not get round the new system.
The idea behind WCIT was to revise and update a treaty governing international telecommunications services. These are known as the International Telecommunications Regulations -- the ITRs. As one of the UK delegation put it in her own blog, this was a
treaty that wasn't about the internet, but really it was.
It all harks back to another century, in fact, and as far as telecommunications is concerned, that's another age -- pre-liberalisation, pre-privatisation, before the great boom in mobile telecoms and, of course, before the internet transformed the way we
communicate and conduct business. It was concluded in 1988, had never been revised since that time and, to no one's great surprise, there was much about it that was ripe for revision. The UK and most developed countries could, in fact, for the most part
have lived quite happily without the ITRs. But the position of other governments, particularly those from developing countries, was that they needed these regulations to be able to conduct telecoms business on a secure legal basis and -- more to the
point -- they needed them updated for the 21st century. We accepted that position in good faith and that's why we sent such a large delegation - a multi-stakeholder team of 25 people drawn from government, business, the academic community and civil
Running into trouble
And, to be fair, a lot of progress was made in the two weeks of the conference. Provisions were included on roaming. The provisions of the treaty that deal with charging were modernised -- allowing for the old settlements system but explicitly
acknowledging the role of competition and commercial agreements. But what the UK team kept running into were proposals to include the internet, content issues, spam and so on -- and that's what ultimately made it impossible to sign the treaty.
Governments know best?
The point is that the internet has grown up outside a model of government control and regulation. That's not to say that there is no regulation of activity on the internet -- a pretty good rule of thumb is if it's illegal in the real world, chances are
that it is illegal in the online world. But the rules governing the way the internet is run -- for example which domain names should be permitted, who should run them and so on -- have been developed by a community of engineers, business, civil society
and governments working together in what is known as the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance. This, though, is in sharp contrast to the approach being advocated in the ITRs where only governments had a voice in the negotiations, and where very
few nations involved other stakeholders in the way we did in the UK.
We value a free and open internet
So when it came to the crunch, the revised ITRs, with provisions on security, on spam and with an unacceptable resolution on internet governance was not a treaty that I could let my delegation sign. The UK -- together with the US, EU member states and a
number of others (55 in total) -- could not sign it because we value an open internet too much to see it hampered by excessive regulation.
The WCIT, however, is not the end of the battle -- these issues will be debated again in numerous international meetings in the coming months and years. And in those debates we will continue to fight for the approach that we know works -- and that is to
keep the internet free and open.
As predicted, there are some significant disagreements. Only seven out of the nine Commissioners believe there should be a bill of rights. Even the title is equivocal: A UK Bill of Rights? The choice before us.
Ministers were accused of betraying parents last night after they ruled out an automatic block on internet porn to protect children.
The Department for Education said expert advice was against an automatic block, which would force those wanting access to online porn sites to contact their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to opt in .
Instead, as the Daily Mail revealed last month, ISPs will simply be asked to actively encourage parents to switch on internet filters if children are likely to be using computers in the home.
Then a little mathematical bullshit creeps into the Daily Mail (or perhaps NSPCC) interpretation of the statistics.
The very best statistic in the entire consultation for the Daily Mail argument was that 35% of parents support the default internet blocking idea. From the government response:
There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35 percent of the parents who responded favoured that approach.
There were even smaller proportions of parents who favoured an approach which simply asked them what they would like their children to access on the internet, with no default settings (13 percent) or a system that combines the latter approach with
default filtering(15 percent).
In fact the 15% mentioned was from a separate question, and the parents in this 15% almost certainly agreed with the default blocking so were already counted in the 35%. And yet the Daily Mail effectively double counted the 15% to incorrectly arrive at
that statistic that 50% of parents supported website some flavour of website blocking. Presumably they then contacted the NSPCC to comment on this supposed 50% statistic:
Confirmation of the decision, slipped out on the DfE website without fanfare, came despite evidence from the Government's consultation that half of parents back an automatic block on internet porn.
Some 35 per cent of parents responding to the consultation backed the opt-in system, with a further 15 per cent wanting it imposed with additional controls.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said the Government's proposals did not go far enough. Alan Wardle, of the NSPCC, said:
The best option to protect children is for adult content to be automatically blocked by Internet Service Providers.
Given that half of the parents who took part in the Government consultation wanted this option, we are concerned their views have not been heard.
The Daily Mail also published an article on the subject by Labour PC extremist Harriet Harman. And as MichaelG asked: was she the only person they could find who supports their North Korean approach to state internet censorship?
Ministers have stepped back from forcing telecommunications companies to filter websites for online pornography after parents rejected the idea in a
A report released by the department for education and the home office instead said that internet service providers will be asked to advise and steer parents towards making an active choice by offering software that blocks out pornography and
The decision follows a 10-week public consultation process. David Cameron had indicated as recently as last month that he wanted firms to follow the lead of TalkTalk, which was the first big name internet service provider to introduce network-level
filtering of websites for its customers.
The report, released with little fanfare, said:
It is... clear that in accepting that responsibility, parents want to be in control, and that it would be easier for them to use the online safety tools available to them if they could learn more about those tools.
They also want information about internet safety risks and what to do about them. There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that
In fact the figures for all those that responded to the consultation showed:
14% in favour of default ISP blocking
85% opposed to default ISP blocking
The campaign for greater curbs against online porn had been led by the Tory MP Claire Perry, and was followed up by the Daily Mail.
The industry pointed out that Perry's plans were unworkable.
The Government will now go to work with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to help parents with the knowledge and tools required to provide flexible and workable parental control.
The Minister for Women, Jo Swinson, has urged the police to investigate anyone suspected of taking advantage of students or forcing
vulnerable women into prostitution.
In a written response to a question by the Labour MP and former minister Helen Goodman, Swinson said she was aware of the SponsorAScholar.co.uk website, which has now been taken down following an undercover investigation by The Independent.
The man responsible for the site, which offered students up to £ 15,000 a year in exchange for intimate encounters with wealthy businessmen or sponsors , was revealed this week to be Mark Lancaster, an IT
There is mounting concern that high student fees could be forcing people into sex work to cover their debt.
Swinson defended the Government's high fees policy:
No eligible student has to pay for their tuition up-front. Loans are available to meet the full cost of tuition charges at publicly funded institutions.
Update: We don't want people having fun or earning money now, do we?
Police investigating a website offering payment of tuition fees for female students in return for sex have arrested a man on suspicion of
After an undercover expose by the Independent into a man who claimed to be an assessor for SponsorAScholar.co.uk, Mark Lancaster was detained by police from the Metropolitan Police's Trafficking and Prostitution Unit.
The computer consultant was questioned and released on police bail. He will return to Charing Cross police station in central London in February.
SponsorAScholar.co.uk offered female students aged 17 to 24 up to £ 15,000 a year in return for what it described as discreet adventures with businessmen in private flats or hotel rooms.
The Independent story followed mounting concern that rising student fees could be forcing young people into sex work to cover their debt with experts claiming the site was the tip of the iceberg .
Mark Lancaster, who was arrested by Scotland Yard officers following an investigation by The Independent into the SponsorAScholar website, was told that his case will be heard by a Crown Court.
He is accused of two offences under the Sexual Offences Act allegedly committed between 1 September and 30 September last year. One charge is an allegation of voyeurism and the second accuses him of trafficking a woman within the United Kingdom for the
purpose of sexual exploitation.
Computer consultant Mark Lancaster has been jailed for 16 months for voyeurism and trafficking after using sex for fees website to dupe student into having sex with him
The prosecutors took the opportunity to inflate trafficking figures by adding a ludicrous trafficking charge on the grounds that the victim was duped into travelling to meet Lancaster, hence was 'trafficked'.
Repressive plans to tackle the supposed problems of internet trolling could have a chilling effect on online
freedom of expression, a committee of MPs and peers has said.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that libel law reforms might cause website operators to delete statements that had not broken the law. Chairman Hywel Francis said:
There should be a higher threshold put in place before material has to be removed.
We think there is a real risk that website operators will be forced to arbitrate on whether something is defamatory or lawful, and will too readily make decisions on commercial grounds to remove allegedly defamatory material rather than engage with the
Proposals in the Defamation Bill aim to protect website operators such as Facebook or Twitter from claims against them when defamatory statements are published by their users, while making it easier to identify the people accused of making such
To be entitled to this protection, the websites must either facilitate contact between the complainant and the author or remove the offending material when they cannot establish contact.
Under the bill, a statement is regarded as defamatory if it has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of a person or a company, but any claim for damages will fail if it can be shown, for example, that the defamatory
statement is substantially true .
The bill is due to begin detailed scrutiny in the House of Lords on 17 December.
There is no need for a law that makes it a crime to insult someone, the Director of Public Persecutions has said.
In a boost to free-speech campaigners, Keir Starmer said it was safe to reform the controversial law that says it is a criminal offence to use insulting words or behaviour .
The clause of the 26-year-old Public Order Act has spurred a campaign which has united gay and secular activists, celebrities and conservative Christian evangelicals in favour of a robust right for people to insult each other.
The Crown Prosecution Service, which Starmer heads, has in the past been against any move to strike the word insulting from the statute book. But the DPP has now changed his mind, the CPS said.
He wrote in a letter to former West Midlands chief constable Lord Dear:
Having now considered the case law in greater depth, we are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as "abusive" as well as "insulting".
I therefore agree the word "insulting" could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:
This legislation has been on the statue books for 26 years, initially to control football hooligans, major demonstrations and protests such as the miners dispute.
But the legislation is now being used to criminalise huge numbers of people for trivial comments.
In 2009 the police used this law 18,000 times, including against people who were expressing their views or beliefs in a reasonable manner.'
Ministers signalled they will rewrite the Snooper's Charter which gives police, security services and anyone else the government nominates new powers
to snoop on communications. An influential parliamentary committee branded it overkill and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it needed a fundamental rethink .
Home Secretary Theresa May accepted the substance of a highly-critical report by the committee set up to scrutinise the draft version of the Bill, which would allow a range of official bodies to monitor emails, web phone calls and activity on
social networking sites.
The committee of MPs and peers said the legislation would give the Home Secretary sweeping powers to issue secret notices ordering communications companies to disclose potentially limitless categories of data . And they accused the
Government of using fanciful and misleading figures to support its case for the legislation.
Clegg said he was ready to block the Bill in its current form, and called on the Home Office to go back to the drawing board :
I believe the coalition Government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation.
We cannot proceed with this Bill and we have to go back to the drawing board. We need to reflect properly on the criticisms that the committee have made, while also consulting much more widely with business and other interested groups.
The Welsh Government has lodged an official complaint over an episode of Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm on S4C.
It claimed that the programme breached BBC and Ofcom guidelines with a storyline in which characters protested about the lack of a badger cull to curb TB in cattle.
The formal complaint demanded that the BBC - which makes the soap - and S4C pull a planned repeat of the episode and also prevent internet access to it.
One of the character in the show, fictionally based in west Wales, said the Welsh government doesn't have the backbone to cull badgers. The character Cathryn Richards, known as Cadno , says the Government does not care about the
countryside because there aren't enough votes here .
A Welsh Government spokesman said:
Following last night's episode of Pobol y Cwm, we have made an official complaint to the BBC and S4C following what we believe to be a serious breach of BBC and Ofcom guidelines.
We have asked the BBC and S4C to take swift action to address our concerns.
The BBC's editorial guidelines are clear that programmes are expected to ensure that 'controversial subjects' are treated with due impartiality in all their output.
We do not believe this to be the case in this instance.
S4C's director of content Dafydd Rhys said the episode would not be pulled and it would still be available online: We're satisfied that the drama includes a variety of viewpoints which refer to the public debate about plans to eradicate
The Daily Mail has reported that David Cameron is to bully parents into signing up for impractical internet censorship.
In future, anyone buying a new computer or signing up with a new ISP will be asked whether they have children when they log on for the first time.
Those answering yes will automatically be taken through the process of installing website blocking for content with an adult theme. They will then be subjected to a series of questions about how stringent they want censorship to be.
There will be an option to impose a watershed on adult interest material, and to prevent children viewing social networking sites such as Facebook during certain hours of the day.
Ministers will also demand that ISPs impose appropriate measures to ensure that those setting the parental controls are over 18.
And they will be told to prompt existing customers to install porn blocking technology.
The proposals, due to be announced by the Government later this month, go much further than previously suggested.
Offsite Comment: Victory in sight: government signals climb down from default filtering?
Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey, today opened the BBFC's international film classifiers conference in London. He praised the BBFC for
their work with the home entertainment industry to bring well understood and trusted BBFC age ratings and content advice to films streamed online. During his opening speech, he said:
The Film Policy Review -- which reported to Government this year, under the leadership of Lord Smith -- recommended that we should aim to connect the widest possible range of audiences with the broadest and richest range of films from around
the world. However, in the digital world this means that information provided to consumers about and through classification is becoming even more important, enabling people to use technology to select the content that is right for them.
In independent research carried out for the BBFC last year, 85% of respondents said it was important to have consistent BBFC classifications available for VOD content, rising to 90% of parents of children under 16. I therefore welcome the
innovative work being done since 2008 by the BBFC in partnership with the home entertainment industry to bring well understood and trusted BBFC age ratings and content advice into the online space. I saw in action for myself in 2011 the BBFC's
then newly launched Watch and Rate service for classifying online content. It's a great example of self regulation -- a quick and effective service which gives parents the reassurance of a trusted age rating for films and videos being
distributed online, without creating a disproportionate burden on content providers and platforms.
I'm pleased that one of those platforms -- BT Vision -- will be here tomorrow to brief you on its experience in using BBFC age ratings for its Video on Demand offering. BT Vision and platforms such as Talk Talk, Netflix and Tesco's Blinkbox
deserve credit for putting parental empowerment and child safety first by working so closely with the BBFC in this area. I look forward to other platforms -- several of which are in discussions with the BBFC -- to do likewise.
Tomorrow BT Vision, one of 38 home entertainment platforms and film studios using the BBFC's service for online film content will discuss their use of BBFC digital services at the international conference, which is attended by classifiers from
17 countries across the globe.
The BBFC's service for streamed and downloaded content was launched in collaboration with the home entertainment industry in 2008. The service provides trusted classifications, category symbols and Consumer Advice to set-top box, video-on-demand
and other online content providers. Key affiliates using the BBFC service include Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Europe, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal, BT Vision, Tesco/Blinkbox, TalkTalk, Picturebox and Netflix.
Broadcasters including Sky are seeking a rule change so that more adult TV
could be shown pre-watershed if protected by a PIN.
The proposals being put forward by the Commercial Broadcasters' Association, a lobbying group for cable and satellite broadcasters including BSkyB.
Currently peak-time dramas and comedies are not allowed to be shown before the watershed, unless they are cut to remove swearing, violence and sex. However, pay-per-view programmes and content on premium film subscription channels are allowed
before the watershed because viewers have to key in a pin code before they can watch them. Such a system is already in place for online catchup TV services.
The group representing broadcasters including Sky, UKTV and MTV, has asked the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for regulations to be changed to extend this pin protection system to cover all other shows on cable and satellite channels.
It is understood that audiences would have to enter the pin every time they wanted to watch a peak-time show before the watershed.
The Coba executive director, Adam Minns, said:
The system of pin protection is well established in the UK. It has proven to be effective technically and is something with which audiences are familiar -- it is now used on a range of services. At the same time, it provides consumer protection
that is arguably more effective than the watershed regime. Extending such a regime to other services could potentially encourage innovative new forms of content delivery.
It is expected that such a move would need a consultation by Ofcom as it would require changes to the TV censor's broadcasting rules