The UK Government has decided to reverse its homophobic ban on poppers.
Ministers had previously announced the alkyl nitrites would be outlawed next month under their far-reaching Psychoactive Substances Act.
Now after robust criticism from Tory Crispin Blunt and Labour Andy Burnham the Home Office have announced that poppers will be excluded from the ban. In a silly attempt at saving face the said that it was advised that poppers do not directly
stimulate or depress the central nervous system . which means they are not technically a psychoactive drug.
Crime Creation Minister Karen Bradley accepted the advice and passed it on to police to ensure people are not criminalised.
Before the government U-turn sex shops were due to face up to seven years' jail for selling them when the Psychoactive Substances Act takes force next month.
Crispin Blunt had told the Commons :
There are some times when something is proposed which becomes personal to you and you realise the government is about to do something fantastically stupid.
Theresa May has been criticised over the Act, which also bans laughing gas (right). And I think in those circumstances one has a duty to speak up.
I use poppers, I out myself as a popper user, and would be directly affected by this legislation. I'm astonished then to find that it's proposing to be banned and frankly so would many other gay men. And if I follow my own mindset reaction to
this it simply serves to bring the whole law into disrepute.
In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Andy Burnham said poppers have beneficial health and relationship effects and were an important issue for the gay community.
Tuesday saw the first debate of the Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Commons.
The debate raised some useful arguments, but many speeches avoided the key point: that the Bill would bring in a huge, unparalleled extension of surveillance powers that had never been debated by MPs before.
The Open Rights Group, ORG, will be proposing amendments to change the Bill. It's unfit for purpose at the moment, permitting and extending mass surveillance. We're particularly concerned about the lack of discussion of the filter which
turns retained data into a massive searchable police database of your location, phone and Internet data. We've delved into the significant new powers for the police below.
The debate on the Investigatory Powers Bill has focused a lot on the new extension to police powers, and the collection of Internet Connection Records to keep a log of everyone's web browsing. Critics like myself worry about the
ability this creates to see into everyone's most intimate thoughts and feelings; while proponents are prone to say that the police will never have time to look at irrelevant material about innocent people.
However, the really novel and threatening part of this proposal isn't being given anywhere near the level of attention needed.
The truly groundbreaking proposal is the filter , which could be seen as a government Google search to trawl your call records, Internet and location data. The filter is clearly named so that it sounds helpful, perhaps boring or else
maybe something that filters down information so that it is privacy friendly. It is anything but. It is so intrusive and worrying, I would rather you think of the Filter as the PHILTRE: the Police Held Internet Lets Them Read Everything.
Remember when these proposals started, back in the late 2000s, under the last Labour government? Maybe not, but that's how long Home Office officials have been trying to make this happen. Their original plan was to build a single database that
would store everything they could find about who you email, message and what you read?, and where you are, as logged by your mobile phone. Place all that information in a single searchable database and the dangers become obvious. So obvious that
the Conservative opposition was up in arms.
How on earth would you stop abuse, if all this information was placed into a single database? Surely, it would lead to fishing trips, or police searches to find lists of all the environmental protesters, trades unionists or libertarians, and to
identify who it is that seem to be their leaders? How would you stop the police from producing pre-arrest lists of miscreants before demonstrations, or from deciding to infiltrate certain public meetings? Indeed, who would be able to resist
using the database from working out who was at the location of relatively petty offenses, perhaps of littering or vandalism, or calculating who had been speeding by examining everyone's mobile phone location data.
So the current government does not want try to hoard everyone's data into a single database. Instead, they've come up with the PHILTRE, which can query lots of smaller, separate databases held by each private company. As this PHILTRE can be
applied to separate data stores, all at once, we are in effect back with a proposal for a single government database and all the same problems -- but in a way that government can claim that it is not a single government database .
But as long as the data can be queried and sorted in parallel, it becomes immensely powerful and just as intrusive. For instance, for a journalist to protect against revealing a whistleblower, they would need to avoid not just phoning them, but
meeting them while both were carrying their mobiles and creating matching location logs. All of the profiling and fishing expeditions are just as easily achievable.
Most worrying is the authorisation process. Police, agencies and tax authorities will continue to authorise their own access of our personal data, just as they do today with phone call records -- there's not a judge anywhere near the day to day
use of this search facility.
The Home Office is selling this Google-style search through the population's mind as a privacy enhancement. Only the relevant search results will be returned. Masses of irrelevant information about other people will not have to be given to
officers. They give the example of mobile phone mast data -- where the filter could cut the required information down to just that about the person you need to know about.
This might sometimes be true. But two things make me suspect this is a highly partial story. For one thing, the search engine can tell you about the kinds of things it thinks it might tell you -- perhaps social graphs, location histories, dodgy
website visits, organisations supported -- before you ask it. This is to educate and help police get the right information. It is also an invitation to make increasing use of the tool. If it is limited in its purpose, this seems an unnecessary
Secondly, there are no limits to what results the search engine might be asked to produce. Nothing for instance, says that only a single person or place can be searched against, so that only one person's contacts might be returned, or just the
people at a single crime scene. Thus the prospect of fishing trips is given no legislative limit. The only serious limit is that this information might be kept for no longer than 12 months.
For years privacy campaigners have been trying to explain how your web history and location data can be dangerous tools for personal and whole population surveillance. Now it seems the UK government wants to engage in a whole population
experiment to show us what it really means. Parliament, the courts, but most of all, you, can help stop them.
The UK's investigatory powers bill receives its second reading on Tuesday. At present the draft law fails to meet international standards for surveillance powers. It requires significant revisions to do so.
First, a law that gives public authorities generalised access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal. The investigatory powers bill does this with its bulk
interception warrants and bulk equipment interference warrants .
Second, international standards require that interception authorisations identify a specific target -- a person or premises -- for surveillance. The investigatory powers bill also fails this standard because it allows targeted interception
warrants to apply to groups or persons, organisations, or premises.
Third, those who authorise interceptions should be able to verify a reasonable suspicion on the basis of a factual case. The investigatory powers bill does not mention reasonable suspicion -- or even suspects -- and there is no need
to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security.
These are international standards found in judgments of the European court of justice and the European court of human rights, and in the recent opinion of the UN special rapporteur for the right to privacy. At present the bill fails to meet these
standards -- the law is unfit for purpose. The stories you need to read, in one handy email Read more
If the law is not fit for purpose, unnecessary and expensive litigation will follow, and further reform will be required. We urge members of the Commons and the Lords to ensure that the future investigatory powers legislation meets these
international standards. Such a law could lead the world.
Paul Ridge, Jaani Riordan, Patrick Roche, Deborah Russo, Adam Sandell, Joseph Savirimuthu, Anton Schutz, Dr Kirsteen Shields, Bethany Shiner, Gus Silverman, Natasha Simonsen, Martha Spurrier, Alison Stanley, Angela Stevens, Dr Sujitha
Subramanian, Samantha Taylor, Gwawr Thomas, Anna Thwaites, Chris Topping, Dr Maria Tzanou, Anthony Vaughan, Dr Asma Vranaki, John Wadham, Adam Wagner, Amos Waldman, Liam Walker, Tony Ward, Camille Warren, Sue Willman, Dr Maggie Wykes, Adrienne
Yong, Dr Alison Young, Dr Hakeem O Yusuf, Dr Aldo Zammit Borda, Dr Reuven Ziegler, Dr Stephen J Murdoch University College London, Helen Mowatt, Imran Khan, Kemi Spector, Dr Gavin W Anderson University of Glasgow, Colin Murray Newcastle
University, Aidan O’Donnell University of Strathclyde, Professor Daniel Wilsher City University, Mikhil Karnik, Conor McCormick Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Valsamis Mitsilegas Queen Mary University of London, Graeme Hall, Christopher
McCorkindale University of Strathclyde,
The UK's poppers manufacturers should be allowed to operate while the government reviews the product's legality, the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said:
Poppers have been around for decades,The evidence shows they don't pose any great risk to health, and that's why they have never been banned before.
Frankly they could have been made exempt from the new act without the need for a review, but the government didn't want to admit they had got it wrong. While there is a review ongoing, of course the legitimate businesses that produce poppers
should be allowed to continue to operate.
The government's psychoactive substances bill will come into force on 6 April, making poppers illegal in the UK. In response to calls to exempt the product from the bill in January, the government announced a review of the ban, which is expected
to report before the summer recess in July, leaving a window of around three months in which UK poppers manufacturers risk going bust.
Poppers is the name given to the chemicals alkyl nitrites, which, when sniffed, give the user a short, sharp head rush. The substance was first circulated as an angina medicine before emerging as a party drug on the gay scene in the 1970s.
Poppers are particularly, though not exclusively, used by gay and bisexual men to enhance sexual pleasure, as they relax the muscles and make it easier to have anal sex. They are sold for about £5 a bottle in most sex shops and some cornershops
and are available for anybody over the age of 16 to buy.
Offsite Article: The poppers ban...Will it criminalise gay users?
The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy has heavily criticised the Investigatory Powers Bill in his first report to the Human Rights Council.
The report calls for disproportionate, privacy-intrusive measures such as bulk surveillance and bulk hacking as contemplated in the Investigatory Powers Bill [to] be outlawed rather than legitimised.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group responded to the report's findings:
The Special Rapporteur's report is yet another damning criticism of the Investigatory Powers Bill. Not only does it call for the disproportionate powers in the Bill to be 'outlawed rather than legitimised', it points out that the Bill does not
comply with recent human rights rulings, which means it could be open to legal challenges.
The report also voices another serious concern -- that the impact of this extreme legislation will be felt around the world, and copied by other countries.
The Government cannot continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence that the IPB is a deeply flawed piece of legislation.
Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House of Commons, has refused a request from Rupa Huq, a Labour MP who is the sister-in-law of comedian Charlie Brooker, to consider relaxing censorship rules on how parliamentary TV footage can be used.
The rule, agreed by broadcasters in 1989 as part of a deal to admit television cameras into the Commons, states that footage cannot be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire .
However, parliamentary scenes can be included in 'magazine' programmes which also contain music or humorous features, such as This Week, the late-night political show hosted by Andrew Neil, provided that the different types of item are
kept separate .
Brooker said that the rules were ridiculous and inconsistent and that the ridiculous ban meant that the government was officially scared of clowns . Other satirists were equally scathing. Rory Bremner said that the advent of the
internet meant that the ship has already sailed , while fellow Spitting Image star John Sessions said the obsolete rules represented the last gasp of deference .
In a speech at the Oxford Media Convention , the UK culture secretary John Whittingdale said the fast-growing use of software that blocked advertising presented an existential threat to the newspaper and music industries.
He vowed to set up a round table involving major publishers, social media groups and adblocking companies in the coming weeks to do something about the problem. He said:
Quite simply -- if people don't pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist. And that's as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse.
Stopping short of announcing an outright ban on adblocking, he said he shared the concern of the newspaper industry about the impact of the technology and would consider what role there is for government after hearing all sides of
the argument. He added:
The newspaper industry brought this to my attention and did not understate the severe consequences if this trend continues.
It is probably quite easy to write a basic adblocker. A simply browser add-on could elect not to load anything from a different domain to the page being displayed.
The government crusades against the BBC continue with a government commissioned report recommending that BBC censorship should be taken over by Ofcom.
The BBC Trust is flawed and should be scrapped, with governance of the corporation moving to Ofcom, a report has concluded. David Clementi, who led the 'independent' review. Clementi, previously a deputy governor of the Bank of
The BBC Trust model is flawed. It conflates governance and regulatory functions within the Trust. The BBC should have a unitary Board charged with responsibility for meeting the obligations placed on it under the Royal Charter and Agreement, and
responsibility for the interests of Licence Fee payers.
Regulatory oversight should pass wholly to Ofcom, which is already the public service regulator for the UK's broadcasting industry and has the ability to look at the BBC in the context of the market as a whole. Ofcom would be a strong regulator
to match a strong BBC.
The report was commissioned by the Government as part of the BBC Charter Review process.
30 British fetish film-makers met to discuss UK porn censorship, particularly the news that at the start of 2016 video-on-demand regulator ATVOD was shut down and re-absorbed into its parent body, Ofcom
Jerry Barnett notes that the government's new porn censorship proposal is a lot wider than just Video on Demand and will require robust age verification for the likes of Google Image Search and Instagram
The Government has put porn viewers on notice that perhaps it might be wise to download a few 64 Gb memory sticks worth of free porn so that they have enough to last a lifetime. The government has launched a consultation suggesting that
foreign porn websites should be blocked, censored and suffocated of funds if they don't comply with don't comply with an 18 age verification process and compliance to the discriminatory government censorship rules that ban anything slightly kinky
especially if favoured for women's porn.
The tome and ideas in the consultation are very much along primitive and unviable age verification methods that has so successfully suffocated the UK porn business. In fact the consultation notes that the UK impact on the multi billion pound porn
industry is insignificant and amounts to just 17 websites.
There seems little in the consultation that considers how the porn industry will evolve if it is made troublesome for adults to get verified. I suspect that there is already enough porn in existence on people's hard drives to circulate around and
last several life times for everybody. Perhaps this should be known as the Canute Consultation.
Anyway, the government writes in its introduction to the consultation:
The UK is a world leader in the work it does to improve child safety online, but we cannot be complacent. Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from harm, especially the young and most vulnerable.
That is why we committed in our manifesto to requiring age verification for access to pornographic material online, and are now seeking views on how we deliver on our commitment. The Consultation Survey
Our preferred method of capturing your responses to our consultation questions is via the dedicated online survey. Please click on the link to share your views with us. Other documents
In order to base policy development on evidence, DCMS commissioned experts from across the UK to conduct a review of evidence into the routes via which children access online pornography. The report of the expert panel was formally submitted in
November 2015 and provides helpful context to the issue. Please see document above.
Also published above is our regulatory triage assessment which considers the potential costs to UK businesses.
Julian Huppert is a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He was previously the Member of Parliament for Cambridge as a Liberal Democrat, serving as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Three parliamentary committees have now reported on the Home Secretary's draft Investigatory Powers Bill. All three have raised major criticisms of both the powers proposed and the way they are set out.
The first was the report of the
Science and Technology Committee , on February 9th, which criticised the lack of clarity in the bill, and highlighted the need for integrity and security in online transactions.
Then we had the Intelligence and Security Committee, with the
first report from the new committee. Long derided as weak, too close to and too trusting of the agencies it was supposed to be overseeing, it caused ripples in the establishment with its short and to the point 15-page report.
In that report they savaged the bill, describing it as a "missed opportunity". They say that "the privacy protections are inconsistent and in our view need strengthening", and that some of the provisions -- equipment
interference, bulk personal data sets, and communications data -- "are too broad and lack sufficient clarity". The proposals around communications data are described as "inconsistent and largely incomprehensible".
Their criticisms are so deep that they express specific concern that it may not be possible to fix the bill by the end of 2016, and suggest the Home Office make sure to take the time to get it right. They say "the draft Bill has perhaps
suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation and it is important that this lesson is learned prior to introduction of the new legislation." Given that aspects of this legislation were claimed to be ready to be passed into law in
2012, this is utterly damning.
The largest report was that of the Joint Committee set up specifically to examine this bill, released this morning, February 11th. Whereas the one set up to consider the 2012 draft Communications Data Bill, on which I served, was chaired by the
independently minded Lord Blencathra, this one was chaired by a former chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (from its rather more cosy and quiescent days), Lord Murphy. They also had a very abridged timetable, and say on numerous
occasions that they simply didn't have the time to properly analyse important sections of the legislation.
Despite this, the 182-page report contains some heavy criticism of the bill, in many cases calling on the government to address criticisms or change the legislation, and they specifically call for some powers to be removed from the bill. In
a rather derisory remark, they say of the Home Office that:
We recommend that more effort should be made to reflect not only the policy aims but also the practical realities of how the internet works on a technical level.
This is the Home Office's third effort to get legislation in this area correct. The first effort was slated by a Joint Committee, and the replacement that was then drawn up was not deemed to be good enough even to present to parliament. This
third version has now faced a triple whammy of criticism, and it is now clear that the Home Office will have to make substantial changes if it wants to get legislation through.
I hope the Home Office will listen to the criticism, especially from the ISC, and produce a better bill for parliament. If they do, we can be in a better place than the one we have now, where RIPA and other obscure legislation gives widespread
uncodified powers in ways that were never intended. If not, I foresee a rocky road for them in parliament, and many embarrassing defeats.
If the Home Office get this right, we can benefit from both better security and better protection for privacy. If they refuse to listen, they have the power to worsen both.
The House of Commons Science and Tech Committee has published its report on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, influenced by comments submitted by 50 individuals, companies, and organizations, including EFF. The report is the first of three
investigations by different Parliamentary committees. While it was intended to concentrate on the technological and business ramifications of the bill, their conclusions reflect the key concern of lawmakers, companies, and human rights groups
about the bill's dangerously vague wording.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, as written, is so vague as to permit a vast range of surveillance actions, with profoundly insufficient oversight or insight into what Britain's intelligence, military and police intend to do with their powers. It
is, in effect, a carefully-crafted loophole wide enough to drive all of existing mass surveillance practice through. Or, in the words of Richard Clayton, Director of the Cambridge Cloud Cybercrime Centre at the University of Cambridge, in his
submissions to the committee: the present bill forbids almost nothing ... and hides radical new capabilities behind pages of obscuring detail.
The bill is 192 pages long, excluding over 60 pages of explanatory notes. Our comments to the committee focused on just one aspect of the bill, what they call equipment interference. Despite our emphasis on just one small part of the bill,
our analysis revealed multiple ambiguities and broad new powers that would allow the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the armed forces, to target electronic equipment such as computers and smartphones in order to obtain
data, including communications content. The bill also provides for the UK government to compel companies and individuals to comply with its surveillance demands, including those located outside Britain, and to bar companies from revealing that
they were the subject of such demands. As the committee says in its conclusions, We believe the industry case regarding public fear about 'equipment interference' is well founded.
The bill also includes a new mandate for data retention whose breadth is similarly ambiguous. Terms like internet connection records, telecommunications service, relevant communications data, communications content,
technical feasibility, and reasonable practicable were all criticized in the report for their vague and overbroad use. The government's excuse is that it wants to create a future-proof bill, but loose language is bad for
businesses trying to understand what obligations they are under. And it's certainly bad for civil liberties when governments exploit those ambiguities to obtain or hold onto new powers.
The details of these definitions and safeguards surrounding them should not be punted into secondary legislation. As the committee notes, a disturbing degree of detail about the Investigatory Powers Bill is deferred to future Codes of
Practice. We've been down this road before in the UK. IPB's predecessor, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) also placed its devilish details into future statutory instruments, which were often slipped past Parliamentarians with
little warning or debate. The result was years of expansion of RIPA powers, to the point where powers originally intended for the intelligence services were delegated to over four hundred public bodies. Even the head of MI5 , Lady
Manningham-Buller, who lobbied for the RIPA powers, was shocked by the eventual overreach:
I can remember being astonished to read that organizations such as the Milk Marketing Board, and whatever the equivalent is for eggs, would have access to some of the techniques. On the principle governing the use of intrusive techniques which
invade people's privacy, there should be clarity in the law as to what is permitted and they should be used only in cases where the threat justified them and their use was proportionate.
This is why, as the committee says, it is essential that this timetable does not slip and that the Codes of Practice are indeed published alongside the Bill so they can be fully scrutinized and debated.
We would go further: EFF believes that a productive discussion around the Investigatory Powers Bill can only begin once all the cards are on the table. The UK government needs to answer all the questions raised by the committee, including those
currently postponed to Codes of Practice, and embed those answers in a revised bill, which can then be more seriously considered, or it's destined for a future of abuse followed by dismantlement in the courts.
The series of successful challenges in the UK and EU against previous surveillance law and practice shows that vague and unbounded language cannot survive a serious challenge in the courts. If the UK government wants its surveillance rules to
stand the test of time, it needs to build them on a firm foundation of clarity, necessity, and proportionality.
Ofcom has announced the appointment of two new, non-executive members to its Board. Non-executive directors are appointed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Ben Verwaayen and Bill Emmott will take up their positions from this month, each for a period of four years.
Bill Emmott will also take on the role of Chairman of Ofcom's Content Board.
Ben Verwaayen has 30 years' experience in running major telecoms, technology and media companies in executive and non-executive roles. He is currently a General Partner at investment fund Keen Venture Partners and holds various Board positions,
including Akamai in the US and mobile operator Bharti Airtel in India. Ben is a former Chief Executive of BT, KPN in the Netherlands and Alcatel Lucent, and has served as a Chairman of Endemol.
Bill Emmott is a journalist and editor who spent 26 years at the Economist, with 13 years as Editor-in-Chief and as a main Board Director. He is also a documentary film maker and an author of non-fiction books. Bill was Chairman of the London
Library from 2009 to 2015, is one of Swiss Re's panel of advisers, Group Economic Adviser to Stonehage Fleming wealth managers and a visiting professor at Shujitsu University in Okayama, Japan.
Ben Verwaayen and Bill Emmott have replaced Tim Gardam and Mike McTighe, who are stepping down from the Board having each served two terms.
Update: Another new TV censor, previously from ATVOD
Ofcom has appointed Robin Foster, previously an independent member of the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) Board, to its Content Board.
Robin brings over 20 years' experience of the UK media sector. He has held senior level strategy positions at the BBC and the Independent Television Commission, and is currently a member of the Advertising Advisory Committee to BCAP at the
Advertising Standards Authority and a founding director of media consultants, Communications Chambers.
Microsoft will warn email and OneDrive users if it detects apparent attempts by governments to hack into their accounts.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo already offer similar government hacker alert systems to the one just introduced by Microsoft. Alerts are far from rare. Google, for example, reportedly tells tens of thousands of users every few months that
they've been targeted by foreign spooks.