The Scottish Law Commission has published its
Report on Defamation
, which includes a draft defamation reform bill.
The SLC's draft bill includes:
a defence of publication on a matter of public interest
a serious harm test, meaning that claimants would be required to prove serious harm before a claim can proceed
a single publication rule, so that the time limit for bringing a defamation claim applies from the first publication of a statement and is not reset every time that statement is shared, for example by re-tweeting
·a reduction of the time limit for bringing a claim from three years to one year
Stephanie Mathisen from the Libel Reform Campaign, and policy manager at Sense about Science , said:
The Libel Reform Campaign welcomes the Scottish Law Commission's Report on Defamation. In particular, we are pleased to see its recognition of the importance of protecting publication on matters of public interest and the requirement for
claimants to prove that serious harm has been caused before a libel claim can proceed. We are delighted the SLC has published a draft bill, opening the way for the Scottish parliament to address Scotland's outdated libel laws. We know MSPs are
anxious to bring the law into the 21st century and hope they will move quickly to debate and pass a bill early in the new year.
The draft bill isn't perfect, but it's a good start. With a draft bill to kick start proceedings, there's no excuse for the Scottish parliament not to debate the issue of defamation reform and finally bring Scotland's libel laws up to date.
The Government has formally proposed that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) be designated as the regulator for the age verification of
online pornography in the UK.
Age verification will mean anyone who makes pornography available online on a commercial basis must ensure under 18s in the UK cannot access it. This is part of the Government's continuing work to make the UK the safest place in the world to be
The BBFC has unparalleled expertise in classifying content and has a proven track record of interpreting and implementing legislation as the statutory authority for age rating videos under the Video Recordings Act.
This, along with its work with industry on the film classification system and more recently classifying material for mobile network operators, makes them the preferred choice for regulator.
Digital Minister Matt Hancock said:
One of the missions of age verification is to harness the freedom of the internet while mitigating its harms. Offline, as a society we protect children from viewing inappropriate adult material by ensuring pornography is sold responsibly using
appropriate age checks. It is now time that the online world follows suit. The BBFC are the best placed in the world to do this important and delicate task.
David Austin, Chief Executive Officer at BBFC said:
The BBFC's primary aim is to protect children and other vulnerable groups from harmful content and we are therefore pleased to accept the Government's proposed designation.
Age-verification barriers will help to prevent children accessing or stumbling across pornographic content online. The UK is leading the way with this age-verification regime and will set an international precedent in child protection.
The government's proposal must be approved by Parliament before the BBFC is officially designated as the age-verification regulator.
The regulator will notify non-compliant pornographic providers, and be able to direct internet service providers to prevent customers accessing these sites. It will also notify payment-services providers and other ancillary service providers of
these sites, with the intention that they can withdraw their services.
The Government will shortly also publish guidance on how the regulator should fulfil its duties in relation to age verification.
Response: The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous
Responding to the news that the BBFC are in line to be appointed Age Verification regulator, Jim Killock Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said:
The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous. They are powerless to ensure people's privacy.
The major publisher, MindGeek, looks like it will dominate the AV market. We are very worried about their product, AgeID, which could track people's porn use. The way this product develops is completely out of BBFC's hands.
Users will not be able to choose how to access websites. They'll be at the mercy of porn companies. And the blame lies squarely with Theresa May's government for pushing incomplete legislation.
Killock also warned that censorship of porn sites could quickly spiral into hundreds or thousands of sites:
While BBFC say they will only block a few large sites that don't use AV, there are tens of thousands of porn sites. Once MPs work out that AV is failing to make porn inaccessible, some will demand that more and more sites are blocked. BBFC will
be pushed to block ever larger numbers of websites.
Response: How to easily get around the UK's porn censorship
Of course, in putting together this hugely draconian piece of legislation, the British Government has overlooked one rather
glaring point. Any efforts to censor online content in the UK can be easily circumvented by anyone using a VPN.
British-based subscribers to a VPN service such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN will be able to get around any blocked sites simply by connecting to a server in another democratic country which hasn't chosen to block websites with adult content.
As much as Governments try to censor online content, so VPN will offer continue to offer people access to the free and uncontrolled internet they are legally entitled to enjoy.
This is a disgraceful report showing that politicians think that they can escape criticism by censoring the likes of Facebook and Twitter. As far as I can see the entire report is a one sided affair trying to censor the storm of Twitter insults
received by politicians, notably Dianne Abbot.
Not once does it mention that some of the criticism may be deserved. Perhaps if politicians want a more pleasant reception from the people, then perhaps that they should do such simple things as not fiddle expenses, answer people's questions, and
not steer every single TV sentence into a chance to repeat inane political slogans. And then of course perhaps they should listen and respond to the people's concern about losing their jobs, housing, benefits and use of the NHS. And whilst they
are at it get more houses built. Fuck 'em, they deserve to be slagged off.
Anyway they try to justify the censorship in their press release:
The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its report on intimidation in public life.
The independent Committee, which advises the Prime Minister on standards of conduct across public life, has made a package of recommendations to address the threats and intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates and others. The
Government should bring forward legislation to shift the liability of illegal content online towards social media companies.
Social media companies must ensure they are able to make decisions quickly and consistently on the takedown of intimidatory content online
Government should consult on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners.
The political parties must work together to develop a joint code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour during election campaigns by December 2018. The code should be jointly enforced by the political parties.
The National Police Chiefs Council should ensure that local police forces have sufficient training to enable them to effectively investigate offences committed through social media.
Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee, said:
This level of vile and threatening behaviour, albeit by a minority of people, against those standing for public office is unacceptable in a healthy democracy. We cannot get to a point where people are put off standing, retreat from debate, and
even fear for their lives as a result of their engagement in politics. This is not about protecting elites or stifling debate, it is about ensuring we have a vigorous democracy in which participants engage in a responsible way which recognises
others' rights to participate and to hold different points of view.
The increasing scale and intensity of this issue demands a serious response. We are not alone in believing that more must be done to combat online behaviour in particular and we have been persuaded that the time has come for the government to
legislate to shift the liability for illegal content online towards social media companies, and to consult on the introduction of a new electoral offence.
We believe that the parties themselves must show greater leadership. They must call out members who engage in this appalling behaviour, and make sure appropriate sanctions are imposed swiftly and consistently. They have an important duty of care
to their candidates, members and supporters. Intimidation takes place across the political spectrum, both in terms of those engaging in and those receiving intimidation. The leadership of political parties must recognise this.
We have heard evidence that intimidatory behaviour can stem from of our current political culture, with low levels of trust in politicians and a feeling of frustration and alienation by some people. Against that backdrop, it is down to all in
public life to play their part in restoring and protecting our public political culture by setting a tone which respects the right of every individual to participate and does not, however inadvertently, open a door to intimidation.
Many of the recommendations we are making today are not limited solely to election periods but will have wider relevance across our public life.
Index rejects UK committee's recommendation to outsource censorship
Index on Censorship rejects many of the suggestions made in a report into intimidation of UK public officials by a committee tasked
with examining standards in public life.
The report recommends 204 among other things 204 creating legislation to make social media companies liable for illegal content and increasing the use of automation to remove content that is not only illegal but intimidatory.
Like many such reports, the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life makes the mistake of lumping together illegal content, intimidatory content 204 which the committee itself admits is hard to define 204 and abusive content, said
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship.
While some content outlined in the report 204 such as threats of rape 204 can clearly be defined as harassing or intimidatory in nature, deciding whether content is illegal or not largely depends on understanding the context 204 and that is
something that neither 'automated techniques' nor speedy removals can address.
We are deeply worried by the growing trend in which democratic governments devolve responsibility for making decisions that should be made by the police or the judiciary to unaccountable private bodies to censor speech.
In addition to a number of recommendations for social media companies to take action, the committee's report also recommends that press regulators should extend their codes of conduct to include intimidatory behaviour.
This report uses language that would not be out of place in any dictator's handbook, said Ginsberg. The idea that the press should include in their code of conduct an element that addresses whether content could 'unduly undermine public trust in
the political system' sounds like a gift to any politician wanting to challenge reports with which they disagree. Rather than enhance democracy and freedoms, as this report claims to want to do, this risks damaging it further.
Index welcomes the fact that the committee deemed new criminal offences specific to social media unnecessary, but cautions that devolving power to social media companies to police content could have significant risks in scooping up legitimate as
well as illegal content because of the sheer volume of material being posted online every second.
Index would also strongly caution against any engagement with other governments at the international level on what constitutes hate crime and intimidation online that could result in a race to the bottom that adds further global restrictions on
Senior police officers are to lose the power to self-authorise access to personal phone and web browsing records under a series of late changes
to the snooper's charter law proposed by ministers in an attempt to comply with a European court ruling on Britain's mass surveillance powers.
A Home Office consultation paper published on Thursday also makes clear that the 250,000 requests each year for access to personal communications data by the police and other public bodies will in future excluded for investigations into minor
crimes that carry a prison sentence of less than six months.
But the government says the 2016 European court of justice (ECJ) ruling in a case brought by Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson , initially with David Davis, now the Brexit secretary, does not apply to the retention or acquisition of personal
phone, email, web history or other communications data by national security organisations such as GCHQ, MI6 or MI5, claiming that national security is outside the scope of EU law.
The Open Rights Group has been campaigning hard on issues of liberty and privacy and writes:
This is major victory for ORG, although one with dangers. The government has conceded that independent authorisation is necessary for communications data requests, but refused to budge on retained data and is pushing ahead with the Request Filter,
to enable rapid interrogation and analysis of the stored communications data.
Adding independent authorisation for communications data requests will make the police more effective, as corruption and abuse will be harder. It will improve operational effectiveness, even if less data is used during investigations and trust in
the police should improve.
Nevertheless the government has disregarded many key elements of the judgment
It isn't going to reduce the amount of data retained
It won't notify people whose data is used during investigations
It won't keep data within the EU, instead it will continue to transfer it, presumably specifically to the USA
The Home Office has opted for a six month sentence definition of serious crime rather than the Lords' definition of crimes capable of sentences of at least one year.
These are clear evasions and abrogations of the judgment. The mission of the Home Office is to uphold the rule of law. By failing to do what the courts tell them, the Home Office is undermining the very essence of the rule of law.
If the Home Office won't do what the highest courts tell it to do, why should anybody else? By picking and choosing the laws they are willing to care about, they are playing with fire.
There was one final surprise. The Code of Practice covers the operation of the Request Filter . Yet again we are told that this police search engine is a privacy safeguard. We will now run through the code in fine detail to see if any such
safeguards are there. On a first glance, there are not.
If the Home Office genuinely believe the Request Filter is a benign tool, they must rewrite this section to make abundantly clear that it is not a mini version of X-Keyscore (the NSA / GCHQ'S tool to trawl their databases of people linked to their
email and web visits) and does not operate as a facility to link and search the vast quantities of retained and collected communications data.
Many stylish and iconic French films have featured smoking, Jean-Paul Belmondo in A? Bout du Souffle Audrey Tautou in Coco Chanel , Jacques Tati was rarely without his pipe and Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve ,
Geard Depardieu and Alain Delon all puffed their way through decades of movies.
Hardly surprising then that a call for French directors to stub out smoking on screen has been greeted with a mix of disbelief and outright ridicule.
The debate was ignited after the Socialist senator Nadine Grelet-Certenais accused France's film-makers of continuing to advertise for the tobacco industry. Her remarks, made during a debate on the government's plan to raise the price of
cigarettes and tobacco, sparked the interest of the health minister, Agnès Buzyn, who said she would talk to her cabinet colleague, the culture minister, Françoise Nyssen. Buzyn promised firm action saying:
I don't understand why the cigarette is so important in French cinema.
Theresa May has made a speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet saying that fake news and Russian propaganda are threatening the international
order. She said:
It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.
The UK did not want to return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation but the UK would have to act to protect the interests of the UK, Europe and rest of the world if Russia continues on its current path.
May did not say whether she was concerned with Russian intervention in any UK democratic processes, but Ben Bradshaw, a leading Labour MP, is among those to have called for a judge-led inquiry into the possibility that Moscow tried to influence
the result of the Brexit referendum.
Russia has been accused of running troll factories that disseminate fake news and divisive posts on social media. It emerged on Monday that a Russian bot account was one of those that shared a viral image that claimed a Muslim woman ignored
victims of the Westminster terror attack as she walked across the bridge.
Surely declining wealth and poor economic prospects are a more likely root cause of public discontent rather than a little trivial propaganda.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told an audience at New America, a Washington think tank, on Thursday night that there was an
online arms race between militants and the forces of law and order.
She said that social media companies should press ahead with development and deployment of AI systems that could spot militant content before it is posted on the internet and block it from being disseminated.
Since the beginning of 2017, violent militant operatives have created 40,000 new internet destinations, Rudd said. As of 12 months ago, social media companies were taking down about half of the violent militant material from their sites within two
hours of its discovery, and lately that proportion has increased to two thirds, she said.
YouTube is now taking down 83% of violent militant videos it discovers, Rudd said, adding that UK authorities have evidence that the Islamic State was now struggling to get some of its materials online.
She added that in the wake of an increasing number of vehicle attacks by islamic terrorists British security authorities were reviewing rental car regulations and considering ways for authorities to collect more relevant data from car hire
On Tuesday 7 November, three joined cases brought by civil liberties and human rights organisations challenging UK Government
surveillance will be heard in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Big Brother Watch and Others v UK will be heard alongside 10 Human Rights Organisations and Others v UK and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Alice Ross v UK, four years after the initial application to the ECtHR.
Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and Dr Constanze Kurz made their application to the Court in 2013 following Edward Snowden's revelations that UK intelligence agencies were running a mass surveillance and bulk communications
interception programme, TEMPORA, as well as receiving data from similar US programmes, PRISM and UPSTREAM, interfering with UK citizens' right to privacy.
The case questions the legality of the indiscriminate surveillance of UK citizens and the bulk collection of their personal information and communications by UK intelligence agencies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). The UK
surveillance regime under RIPA was untargeted, meaning that UK citizens' personal communications and information was collected at random without any element of suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing, and this regime was effective indefinitely.
The surveillance regime is being challenged on the grounds that there was no sufficient legal basis, no accountability, and no adequate oversight of these programmes, and as a result infringed UK citizens' Article 8 right to a private life.
In 2014, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism made an application to the ECtHR, followed by 10 Human Rights Organisations and others in 2015 after they received a judgment from the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal. All three cases were joined
together, and the Court exceptionally decided that there would be a hearing.
The result of these three cases has the potential to impact the current UK surveillance regime under the Investigatory Powers Act. This legal framework has already been strongly criticized by the Court of Justice of the European Union in Watson .
A favourable judgment in this case will finally push the UK Government to constrain these wide-ranging surveillance powers, implement greater judicial control and introduce greater protection such as notifying citizens that they have been put
Daniel Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn, solicitor for Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN and Constanze Kurz, said:
Historically, it has required a ruling from this Court before improvements in domestic law in this area are made. Edward Snowden broke that cycle by setting in motion last year's Investigatory Power Act, but my clients are asking the Court to
limit bulk interception powers in a much more meaningful way and to require significant improvements in how such intrusive powers are controlled and reported.
Griff Ferris, Researcher at Big Brother Watch, said:
This case raises long-standing issues relating to the UK Government's unwarranted intrusion into people's private lives, giving the intelligence agencies free reign to indiscriminately intercept and monitor people's private communications without
evidence or suspicion.
UK citizens who are not suspected of any wrongdoing should be able to live their lives in both the physical and the digital world safely and securely without such Government intrusion.
If the Court finds that the UK Government infringed UK citizens' right to privacy, this should put further pressure on the Government to implement measures to ensure that its current surveillance regime doesn't make the same mistakes.
Antonia Byatt, Interim Director of English PEN, said:
More than four years since Edward Snowden's revelations and nearly one year since the Investigatory Powers Act was passed, this is a landmark hearing that seeks to safeguard our privacy and our right to freedom of expression.
The UK now has the most repressive surveillance legislation of any western democracy, this is a vital opportunity to challenge the unprecedented erosion of our private lives and liberty to communicate.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said:
Mass surveillance must end. Our democratic values are threatened by the fact of pervasive, constant state surveillance. This case gives the court the opportunity to rein it back, and to show the British Government that there are clear limits.
Hoovering everything up and failing to explain what you are doing is not acceptable.
The truth is that a lot of the material that terrorists share is not actually illegal at all. Instead, it was often comprised of news reports about perceived injustices in Palestine, stuff that you could never censor in a free society.
Whilst speaking about the Government's recently published Internet Safety Strategy green paper, Suzie Hargreaves of the Internet Watch Foundation
noted upcoming changes to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). This is a government run body that includes many members from industry and child protection campaigners. It debates many internet issues about the protection of children
which routinely touches on internet control and censorship. Hargreaves noted that the UKCCIS looks set to expand its remit. She writes:
The Government recognises the work of UKCCIS and wants to align it more closely with the Internet Safety Strategy. Renaming it the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS), the Government is proposing broadening the council's remit to adults,
having a smaller and higher-profile executive board, reconsidering the role of the working groups to ensure that there is flexibility to respond to new issues, looking into an independent panel or working group to discuss the social media levy,
and reviewing available online safety resources.
Social media companies look set to be hit with a new tax to pay for schemes to raise people's awareness of the dangers
of the internet and to tackle what the government considers their worst effects.
Web firms will have a chance to give their views on the levy being proposed by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley in a public consultation.
Among the options proposed in Bradley's internet safety green paper is an industry-wide levy so social media companies and service providers fund schemes that raise awareness and counter internet harms.
The Independent understands that the Government is interested to see what action the private sector takes first -- with a voluntary funded approach possible -- before imposing any new levy on firms.
Offsite Analysis: For the forthcoming 'Digital Charter'
Broadly speaking the new paper , which will help to form a foundation for the Government's forthcoming Digital Charter , doesn't include much that would concern internet access (broadband) providers. Instead it appears to be predominantly focused
upon internet content providers (e.g. social networks like Facebook).
The trouble with politicians claiming that censorship is the answer, is that when the censorship inevitably fails to solve the problem, they can never admit fallibility, and so their only answer is to censor more
Home secretary Amber Rudd used her keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester to announce new laws,
which would see anyone caught repeatedly watching extremist content on the internet to face up to 15 years jail.
At present laws prohibiting material that could be useful to terrorists only apply to hardcopy or downloaded material . They do not apply to material that is not actually in one's possession.
Security and digital rights experts have dumped on the home secretary's proposal for the new laws, calling the move incredibly dangerous. Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said:
This is incredibly dangerous. Journalists, anti-terror campaigns and others may need to view extremist content, regularly and frequently.
People tempted towards extremism may fear discussing what they have read or seen with anyone in authority. Even potential informants may be dissuaded from coming forward because they are already criminalised.
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said:
This shocking proposal would make thoughtcrime a reality in the UK. Blurring the boundary between thought and action like this undermines the bedrock principles of our criminal justice system and will criminalise journalists, academics and many
other innocent people.
We have a vast number of laws to tackle terror. The Government's own reviewer of terror legislation Max Hill QC has said repeatedly that we need fewer, not more. A responsible Home Secretary would listen to the evidence -- not grandstand for
cheap political points at the expense of our fundamental freedoms.
In terms of how people would be identified -- it's hard for us to say without seeing more detail about the proposals. It's likely identifying people would mean intrusive surveillance measures like those in the Investigatory Powers Act. In terms
of enforceability -- it's likely to be really difficult because so many people will be caught up who have a legitimate reason and will then run that defence.
Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the security think tank RUSI, told BuzzFeed News that Rudd's proposal lacked specific detail and ran the risk of criminalising parts of some newspapers:
The risk is that [Rudd] runs into the same problems as her predecessor, Theresa May, did in 2015, when she sought to ban 'extremism', Joshi said. These are broad and nebulous terms, and they require very careful definition in order to avoid
curbing legitimate free speech.
Otherwise we would risk criminalising some of the material that appears in certain mainstream newspaper columns.
Amber Rudd also decided to bang on about prohibiting encryption, even rather haplessly admitting that she did not understand who it worked.
Again campaigners were not impressed. Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, noted:
Amber Rudd needs to be realistic and clear about what she wants. It is no better saying she wishes to deny criminals the use of encryption than to say she wishes to deny them access to gravity. And if she succeeds in pushing them off major
platforms, terrorists may end up being harder to detect.
Lib Dem Ed Davey also weighed in:
Encryption keeps us all secure online. It allows businesses to operate and thrive securely. Any weakening of encryption will ultimately make us all less safe. For if you weaken encryption, you run the risk of letting in the bad guys
But this Conservative government can only see things in black and white -- ignoring the realities of technology. The Home Secretary's key note speech called on tech giants to work together and, with government, to take down extremist content
faster than ever before. My party completely support her in that mission. The only way we will defeat this scourge is to band together -- exchange information, invest in new technologies and present a united front.