The UK government is preparing to establish a new internet censor that would make tech firms liable for content published on their platforms and have the power to sanction companies that fail to take down illegal material and hate speech within
Under legislation being drafted by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) due to be announced this winter, a new censorship framework for online social harms would be created.
BuzzFeed News has obtained details of the proposals, which would see the establishment of an internet censor similar to Ofcom.
Home secretary Sajid Javid and culture secretary Jeremy Wright are considering the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for social media platforms and strict new rules such as takedown times forcing websites to remove illegal hate speech
within a set timeframe or face penalties. Ministers are also looking at implementing age verification for users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The new proposals are still in the development stage and are due to be put out for consultation later this year. The new censor would also develop rules new regulations on controlling non-illegal content and online behaviour . The rules for what
constitutes non-illegal content will be the subject of what is likely to be a hotly debated consultation.
BuzzFeed News has also been told ministers are looking at creating a second new censor for online advertising. Its powers would include a crackdown on online advertisements for food and soft drink products that are high in salt, fat, or sugar.
BuzzFeed News understands concerns have been raised in Whitehall that the regulation of non-illegal content will spark opposition from free speech campaigners and MPs. There are also fears internally that some of the measures being considered,
including blocking websites that do not adhere to the new regulations, are so draconian that they will generate considerable opposition.
A government spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the plans would be unveiled later this year.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that the UK's mass surveillance programmes, revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, did not meet the quality of law requirement and were incapable of keeping the interference
to what is necessary in a democratic society.
The landmark judgment marks the Court's first ruling on UK mass surveillance programmes revealed by Mr Snowden. The case was started in 2013 by campaign groups Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and computer science expert Dr
Constanze Kurz following Mr Snowden's revelation of GCHQ mass spying.
Documents provided by Mr Snowden revealed that the UK intelligence agency GCHQ were conducting population-scale interception, capturing the communications of millions of innocent people. The mass spying programmes included TEMPORA, a bulk data
store of all internet traffic; KARMA POLICE, a catalogue including a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet; and BLACK HOLE, a repository of over 1 trillion events including internet histories, email and instant messenger
records, search engine queries and social media activity.
The applicants argued that the mass interception programmes infringed UK citizens' rights to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the population-level surveillance was effectively indiscriminate, without
basic safeguards and oversight, and lacked a sufficient legal basis in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
In its judgment, the ECtHR acknowledged that bulk interception is by definition untargeted ; that there was a lack of oversight of the entire selection process, and that safeguards were not sufficiently robust to provide adequate
guarantees against abuse.
In particular, the Court noted concern that the intelligence services can search and examine "related communications data" apparently without restriction -- data that identifies senders and recipients of communications, their
location, email headers, web browsing information, IP addresses, and more. The Court expressed concern that such unrestricted snooping could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person through the mapping of social networks,
location tracking, Internet browsing tracking, mapping of communication patterns, and insight into who a person interacted with.
The Court acknowledged the importance of applying safeguards to a surveillance regime, stating:
In view of the risk that a system of secret surveillance set up to protect national security may undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it, the Court must be satisfied that there are adequate and effective guarantees
The Government passed the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) in November 2016, replacing the contested RIPA powers and controversially putting mass surveillance powers on a statutory footing.
However, today's judgment that indiscriminate spying breaches rights protected by the ECHR is likely to provoke serious questions as to the lawfulness of bulk powers in the IPA.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:
Viewers of the BBC drama, the Bodyguard, may be shocked to know that the UK actually has the most extreme surveillance powers in a democracy. Since we brought this case in 2013, the UK has actually increased its powers to indiscriminately
surveil our communications whether or not we are suspected of any criminal activity.
In light of today's judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the UK Government is continuing to breach our right to privacy.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:
This landmark judgment confirming that the UK's mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden's courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice.
Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public. This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions
of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion. However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over.
Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN said:
This judgment confirms that the British government's surveillance practices have violated not only our right to privacy, but our right to freedom of expression too. Excessive surveillance discourages whistle-blowing and discourages investigative
journalism. The government must now take action to guarantee our freedom to write and to read freely online.
Dr Constanze Kurz, computer scientist, internet activist and spokeswoman of the German Chaos Computer Club said:
What is at stake is the future of mass surveillance of European citizens, not only by UK secret services. The lack of accountability is not acceptable when the GCHQ penetrates Europe's communication data with their mass surveillance techniques.
We all have to demand now that our human rights and more respect of the privacy of millions of Europeans will be acknowledged by the UK government and also by all European countries.
Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn, the solicitor representing the applicants, stated as follows:
The Court has put down a marker that the UK government does not have a free hand with the public's communications and that in several key respects the UK's laws and surveillance practices have failed. In particular, there needs to be much
greater control over the search terms that the government is using to sift our communications. The pressure of this litigation has already contributed to some reforms in the UK and this judgment will require the UK government to look again at
its practices in this most critical of areas.
Powell's bill purports to "tackle online hate, fake news and radicalisation" by making social media companies liable for what is published in large, closed online forms -- and is the latest in a series of poorly drafted attempts by
parliamentarians to address communications online.
If only Powell's proposal were the worst piece of legislation parliament will consider this autumn. Yesterday, MPs debated the
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which would make it a crime to view information online that is "likely to be useful" to a terrorist. No terrorist intent would be required -- but you would risk up to 15 years in prison
if found guilty. This would make the work of journalists and academics very difficult or impossible.
Attempts to tackle online content are coming from all corners with little coordination -- although a factor common to all these proposals is that they utterly fail to safeguard freedom of expression.
Over the summer, the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport issued a
preliminary report on tackling fake news and the government launched a
consultation on a possible new law to prevent "intimidation" of those standing for elections.
In addition, the government is expected to publish later this year a
white paper on internet safety aimed " to make sure the UK is the safest place in the world to be online." The Law Commission, already tasked with publishing
a report on offensive online communications , was last week asked to review whether misogyny should be considered a hate crime.
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index, said:
"We're having to play whack-a-mole at the moment to prevent poorly drawn laws inadvertently stifling freedom of expression, especially online. The scattergun approach is no way to deal with concerns about online communications. Instead of
paying lip service to freedom of expression as a British value, it needs to be front and centre when developing policies".
"We already have laws to deal with harassment, incitement to violence, and even incitement to hatred. International experience shows us that even well-intentioned laws meant to tackle hateful views online often end up hurting the minority
groups they are meant to protect, stifle public debate, and limit the public's ability to hold the powerful to account."
Niche porn producer, Pandora Blake, Misha Mayfair, campaigning lawyer Myles Jackman and Backlash are campaigning to back a legal challenge to the upcoming internet porn censorship regime in the UK. They write on a new
We are mounting a legal challenge.
Do you lock your door when you watch porn 203 or do you publish a notice in the paper? The new UK age verification law means you may soon have to upload a proof of age to visit adult sites. This would connect your legal identity to a database of
all your adult browsing. Join us to prevent the damage to your privacy.
The UK Government is bringing in age verification for adults who want to view adult content online; yet have failed to provide privacy and security obligations to ensure your private information is securely protected.
The law does not currently limit age verification software to only hold data provided by you just in order to verify your age. Hence, other identifying data about you could include anything from your passport information to your credit card
details, up to your full search history information. This is highly sensitive data.
What are the Privacy Risks?
Data Misuse - Since age verification providers are legally permitted to collect this information, what is to stop them from increasing revenue through targeting advertising at you, or even selling your personal data?
Data Breaches - No database is perfectly secure, despite good intentions. The leaking or hacking of your sensitive personal information could be truly devastating. The Ashley Madison hack led to suicides. Don't let the Government allow your
private sexual preferences be leaked into the public domain.
What are we asking money for?
We're asking you to help us crowdfund legal fees so we can challenge the new age verification rules under the Digital Economy Act 2017. We re asking for 2£10,000 to cover the cost of initial legal advice, since it's a complicated area of law.
Ultimately, we'd like to raise even more money, so we can send a message to Government that your personal privacy is of paramount importance.
The bill threatens investigative journalism and academic research by making it a crime to view material online that could be helpful to a terrorist. This would deter investigative journalists from doing their work and would make academic
research into terrorism difficult or impossible.
New border powers in the bill could put journalists' confidential sources at risk. The bill's border security measures would mean that journalists could be forced to answer questions or hand over material that would reveal the identity of a
confidential source. These new powers could be exercised without any grounds for suspicion.
The bill also endangers freedom of expression in other ways. It would make it an offence to express an opinion in support of a proscribed (terrorist) organisation in a way that is reckless as to whether this could encourage another person to
support the organisation. This would apply even if the reckless person was making the statement to one other person in a private home.
The bill would criminalise the publication of a picture or video clip of an item of clothing or for example a flag in a way that aroused suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a terrorist organisation. This would cover, for
example, someone taking a picture of themselves at home and posting it online.
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy said: The fundamentally flawed Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill should be sent back to the drawing board. It is not fit for purpose and it would limit freedom of expression, journalism and academic
research in a way that should be completely unacceptable in a democratic country.
A review is to take place into whether misogynistic conduct should be treated as a hate crime, following Labour MP Stella Creasy's call to change the law.
The move was announced during a debate on proposed legislation to criminalise upskirting in England and Wales. On Wednesday, MPs approved the Voyeurism Bill, which would ban the taking of unsolicited pictures under someone's clothing, known as
upskirting, in England and Wales.
'Justice' Minister Lucy Frazer said the Voyeurism Bill was not the right vehicle for seeking such a change in the law but said she sympathised with Creasy's views. She said ministers would fund a review into the coverage and approach of hate
The Law Commission will now review how sex and gender characteristics are treated within existing hate crime laws and whether new offences are needed. This review will include how protected characteristics, including sex and gender
characteristics, should be considered by new or existing hate crime law.
Update: Governments should not be policing thought
The Law Commission will review how sex and gender characteristics are treated within existing hate crime laws and whether new offences are needed.
Index does not believe the UK needs new laws to protect women from abuse and violence.
The UK already has dozens of laws on its books that make criminal the kind of abusive actions that are disproportionately targeted at women: rape, harassment, stalking. Despite this, the most egregious crimes against women frequently go
unpunished. In the case of rape, conviction rates are woeful. A report published in 2017 found that only one in 14 rapes reported in England and Wales ended in a conviction.
Creating new laws that make misogyny a hate crime will do little to change this, as lawyers argued earlier this week . Nor are they likely to help change attitudes. In fact they can do the opposite.
Laws that criminalise speech are deeply problematic. In a free society, thoughts should not be criminal no matter how hateful they are. Yet laws that make hate criminal -- in a well-meaning but misplaced effort to protect minorities and
persecuted groups -- are on the rise.
We should all be worried about this. As the US delegation noted in a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in 2015, hate speech laws are increasingly being abused by those in power to target political opponents or to persecute the very
minority groups such laws are meant to protect.
In addition, they do little to improve tolerance or treatment of such groups: Such laws, including blasphemy laws, tend to reinforce divisions rather than promote societal harmony, the US delegation said. The presence of these laws has little
discernible effect on reducing actual incidences of hate speech. In some cases such laws actually serve to foment violence against members of minority groups accused of expressing unpopular viewpoints.
As if to prove their point, Russia used the same meeting to praise hate speech laws and the need to police hate speech in Ukraine so as not to ignite nationalistic fires.
Tackling hate requires changes in society's attitude. Some of those changes need laws -- such as those we rightly already have to outlaw discrimination in the workplace. Some require major changes in our institutions to the structures and
practices that reinforce inequality. But prohibiting speech, or policing thought, is not the way to do this.
Offsite Comment: Stella Creasy's war on thoughtcrime
The government is amending its Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill with regards to criminalising accessing terrorism related content on the internet.
MPs, peers and the United Nations have already raised human rights concerns over pre-existing measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which proposed to make accessing propaganda online on three or more different occasions a
The Joint Human Rights Committee found the wording of the law vague and told the government it violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The committee concluded in July:
This clause may capture academic and journalistic research as well as those with inquisitive or even foolish minds.
The viewing of material without any associated intentional or reckless harm is, in our view, an unjustified interference with the right to receive information...unless amended, this implementation of this clause would clearly risk breaching
Article 10 of the ECHR and unjustly criminalising the conduct of those with no links to terrorism.
The committee called for officials to narrow the new criminal offence so it requires terrorist intent and defines how people can legally view terrorist material.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy also chipped accusing the British government of straying towards thought crime with the law.
In response, the government scrapped the three clicks rule entirely and broadened the concept of viewing to make the draft law read:
A person commits an offence if...the person views or otherwise accesses by means of the internet a document or record containing information of that kind.
It also added a clause saying a reasonable excuse includes:
Having no reason to believe, that the document or record in question contained, or was likely to contain, information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
The Five Eyes governments of the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have threatened the tech industry to voluntarily create backdoor access to their systems, or be compelled to by law if they don't.
The move is a final warning to platform holders such as WhatsApp, Apple and Google who deploy encryption to guarantee user privacy on their services. A statement by the Five Eyes governments says:
Encryption is vital to the digital economy and a secure cyberspace, and to the protection of personal, commercial and government information ...HOWEVER.. . the increasing use and sophistication of certain encryption designs present
challenges for nations in combating serious crimes and threats to national and global security.
Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate
investigations and avoid detection and prosecution.
If the industry does not voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to their products the statement continued, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to guarantee entry.