There are references to a review of Counter-terrorism and a Commision for Countering Extremism which will include Internet-related policies. Although details are lacking, these may contain threats to privacy and free speech. The government has
opted for a "Digital Charter", which isn't a Bill, but something else.
This isn't a Bill, but some kind of policy intervention. Perhaps the Digital Charter
will be for companies to voluntarily agree to, or a statement of government preferences. It addresses both unwanted and illegal content or activity online, and the protection of vulnerable people. The work of CTIRU and the IWF are mentioned as
examples of work to remove illegal or extremist content.
At this point, it is hard to know exactly what harms will emerge, but pushing enforcement into the hands of private companies is problematic. It means that decisions never involve courts and are not fully transparent and legally accountable.
There will be a review of counterterrorism powers
. The review includes "working with online companies to reduce and restrict the availability of extremist material online".
This appears to be a watered down version of the Conservative manifesto commitment to give greater responsibility for companies to take down extremist material from their platforms. Already Google and Facebook have issued public statements about
how they intend to improve the removal of extremist material from their platforms.
Commission for Countering Extremism
will look at the topic of countering extremism, likely including on the Internet.
This appears to be a measure to generate ideas and thinking, which could be a positive approach, if it involves considering different approaches, rather than pressing ahead with policies in order to be seen to be doing something. The quality of
the Commission will therefore depend on their ability to take a wide range of evidence and assimilate it impartially; it faces a significant challenge in ensuring that fundamental rights are respected within any policy suggestions they suggest.
Data Protection Bill
A new Data Protection Bill
, "will fulfil a manifesto commitment to ensure the UK has a data protection regime that is fit for the 21st century". This will replace the Data Protection Act 1998, which is in any case being removed as the result of the new
General Data Protection Regulation
passed by the European Parliament last year. Regulations apply directly, so the GDPR does not need to be 'implemented' in UK law before Brexit.
We welcome that (at least parts of) the GDPR will be implemented in primary legislation with a full debate in Parliament. It is not clear if the text of the GDPR will be brought into this Bill, or whether it supplements it.
This appears to be a bill to at least implement some of the 'derogations' (options) in the GDPR, plus the new rules for law enforcement agencies, that came in with the new
law enforcement-related Directive
and have to be applied by EU member states.
The bulk of the important rights are in the GDPR, and cannot be tampered with before Brexit. We welcome the chance to debate the choices, and especially to press for the right of privacy groups to bring complaints directly.
Open Rights Group has responded to Theresa May's post-election hints that she will continue with Conservative plans for Internet clampdowns.
Executive Director Jim Killock said:
To push on with these extreme proposals for Internet clampdowns would appear to be a distraction from the current political situation and from effective measures against terror.
The Government already has extensive surveillance powers. Conservative proposals for automated censorship of the Internet would see decisions about what British citizens can see online being placed in the hands of computer algorithms, with
judgments ultimately made by private companies rather than courts. Home Office plans to force companies to weaken the security of their communications products could put all of us at a greater risk of crime.
Both of these proposals could result in terrorists and extremists switching to platforms and services that are more difficult for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor.
Given that the priority for all MPs is how the UK will negotiate Brexit, it will be especially hard to give the time and thought necessary to scrutinise these proposals.
It could be tempting to push ahead in order to restore some of Theresa May's image as a tough leader. This should be resisted. With such a fragile majority, greater consensus will be needed to pass new laws.
We hope that this will mean our parliamentarians will reject reactionary policy-making and look for long-term, effective solutions that directly address the complex causes of terrorism.
Buried at the very end of the Conservative election manifesto is a line of text that could have an
enormous impact on how Britons use the internet in the future.
Conservative advisers suggested to BuzzFeed News that a future Tory government would be keen to rein in the growing power of Google and Facebook.
The proposals -- dotted around the manifesto document -- are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it's a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks.
Legislation would be introduced to 'protect' the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote
counter-extremism narratives -- potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to
justify their policies to the government.
The Manifesto states:
Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline.
It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high
street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.
New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability
to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.
A levy on tech companies -- similar to that charged on gambling companies -- would also be used to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms. The Conservatives even see this model going further, announcing their desire
to work with other countries develop a global set of internet regulation standards similar to those we have for so long benefited from in other areas like banking and trade.
May's manifesto also raises concerns about online news, warning it is willing to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy, while pledging to ensure content creators are appropriately
rewarded for the content they make available online.
On a more positive note, the Conservative party manifesto contained one significantly welcome provision, which was that the party would not proceed with implementing the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, and would repeal Section 40 of the Crime
and Courts Act 2013 -- both measures that RSF has campaigned for. RSF and other free expression groups viewed Section 40 as threatening to press freedom, particularly its cost-shifting provision that, if implemented, could have held publishers
that did not join the state-approved regulator liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit.
In contrast, both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos stated that the parties would disgracefully move forward with the unjust stage two of the Leveson Inquiry.
A Freedom of Information request to the DCMS has revealed that porn company MindGeek suggested that the BBFC should potentially block millions of porn sites if they didn't comply with Age Verification requirements outlined in the Digital Economy
MindGeek, who are also developing Age Verification technology, said that the Government's plans to prevent children from seeing pornography would not be effective unless millions of sites could be blocked.
Notes made by the company and sent to the DCMS state:
A greylist of 4M URLs already exists from Sky, but lets assume that's actually much smaller as these URLs will I suspect, be page- level blocks, not TLDs. The regulator should contact them all within that 12 months, explaining that if they do not
demonstrate they are AV ready by the enforcement date then they will be enforced against. "On the enforcement date, all sites on the greylist turn black or white depending upon what they have demonstrated to the regulator.
Corey Price, VP of Pornhub, separately noted:
It is our corporate responsibility as part of the global tech community to promote ethical and responsible behavior. We firmly believe that parents are best placed to police their children's online activity using the plethora of tools already
available in modern operating systems. The law has the potential to send a message to parents that they no longer need to monitor their children's online activity, so it is therefore essential that the Act is robustly enforced.
Despite the law, those seeking adult content can still circumvent age verification using simple proxy/VPN services. Consequently the intent of the legislation is to only protect children who stumble across adult content in an un-protected
environment. There are over 4 million domains containing adult content, and unless sites are enforced against equally, stumbling across adult content will be no harder than at present. If the regulator pursues a proportionate approach we may only
see the Top 50 sites being effected 203 this is wholly unacceptable as the law will then be completely ineffective, and simply discriminate against compliant sites. We are therefore informing, and closely monitoring the development of the
regulations, to be published later this year, to see if they achieve the intended goals of the Act.
MindGeek could stand to gain commercially if competitor websites are blocked from UK visitors, or if the industry takes up their Age Verification product.
Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said:
There is nothing in the Act to stop the BBFC from blocking 4.6 million pornographic websites. The only constraint is cash.
This leaves the BBFC wide open to pressure for mass website blocking without any need for a change in the law.
When giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee
, the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification, David Austin implied that only tens of sites would be targeted:
We would start with the top 50 and work our way through those, but we would not stop there. We would look to get new data every quarter, for example. As you say, sites will come in and out of popularity. We will keep up to date and focus on those
most popular sites for children.
The Digital Economy Bill (DEBill) will require that porn sites verify the age of their users in order to prevent under 18s from viewing pornography. Despite concerns that this will leave porn users vulnerable to hacks and security risks, the
Government has failed to amend the Bill so that privacy is written into the legislation. Instead, Codes of Practice will place the responsibility for protecting people's privacy with porn sites not the companies supplying age verification
Executive Director Jim Killock said:
Age verification is an accident waiting to happen. Despite repeated warnings, parliament has failed to listen to concerns about the privacy and security of people who want to watch legal adult content.
As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about people's sex lives, has huge repercussions for those involved. The UK government has failed to take responsibility for its proposals and placed the responsibility
for people's privacy into the hands of porn companies.
The Bill will also enable the creation of a censorship regime as the BBFC will be given powers to force ISPs to block legitimate websites without any judicial process. These powers were added to the Bill, when it became apparent that foreign porn
sites could not be compelled to apply age verification. During parliamentary scrutiny, they were extended to include other content, not just pornography, raising further concerns about the threat to free speech.
These new powers will put in place a vast system of censorship which could be applied to tens of thousands of adult websites. The BBFC will be under pressure to censor more and more legal content. This is a serious assault on free speech in the
Almost 25,000 ORG supporters signed a petition calling for the Government to reject plans for blocking legal pornography.
The Digital Economy Bill has received the royal assent. Interesting comments and links on Pandora Blake's blog. Apparently a thrilling thirteen parliamentary jobsworths could be arsed to turn up for the final debate in the House of Comics. I would
think it's now in the interest of porn producers, as well as their British customers, to drop any restrictions on access via VPNs and to help UK punters get round any attempted firewall.
Pandora seems to know more about the matter than the 650 political twats together!