Age Verification and adult internet censorship was discussed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on 13th November 2018.
Carol Monaghan Committee Member: The Digital Economy Act made it compulsory for commercial pornography sites to undertake age verification, but implementation has been subject to ongoing delays. When do we expect it to go live?
Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries: We can expect it to be in force by Easter next year. I make that timetable in the knowledge that we have laid the necessary secondary legislation before Parliament. I am
hopeful of getting a slot to debate it before Christmas, before the end of the year. We have always said that we will permit the industry three months to get up to speed with the practicalities and delivering the age verification that it will be
required to deliver by law. We have also had to set up the regulator--well, not to set it up, but to establish with the British Board of Film Classification , which has been the regulator, exactly how it will work. It has had to consult on the
methods of age verification, so it has taken longer than I would have liked, but I would balance that with a confidence that we have got it right.
Carol Monaghan: Are you confident that the commercial pornography companies are going to engage fully and will implement the law as you hope?
Margot James: I am certainly confident on the majority of large commercial pornography websites and platforms being compliant with the law. They have engaged well with the BBFC and the Department , and want to be on the right side of the
law. I have confidence, but I am wary of being 100% confident, because there are always smaller and more underground platforms and sites that will seek ways around the law. At least, that is usually the case. We will be on the lookout for that,
and so will the BBFC. But the vast majority of organisations have indicated that they are keen to comply with the legislation.
Carol Monaghan: One concern that we all have is that children can stumble across pornography. We know that on social media platforms, where children are often active, up to a third of their content can be pornographic, but they fall
outside the age verification regulation because it is only a third and not the majority. Is that likely to undermine the law? Ultimately the law, as it stands, is there to safeguard our children.
Margot James: I acknowledge that that is a weakness in the legislative solution. I do not think that for many mainstream social media platforms as much of a third of their content is pornographic, but it is well known that certain social
media platforms that many people use regularly have pornography freely available. We have decided to start with the commercial operations while we bring in the age verification techniques that have not been widely used to date. But we will keep a
watching brief on how effective those age verification procedures turn out to be with commercial providers and will keep a close eye on how social media platforms develop in terms of the extent of pornographic material, particularly if they are
platforms that appeal to children--not all are. You point to a legitimate weakness, on which we have a close eye.
The closed-door trilogue efforts to finalise the EU Copyright Directive continue. The Presidency of the Council, currently held by Austria, has now circulated among the EU member state governments a new proposal for a compromise between the
differing drafts currently on the table for the controversial Articles 11 and 13.
Under this latest proposal, both upload filters and the link tax would be here to stay -- with some changes for the better, and others for the worse.
Let's recall: In its final position, the European Parliament had tried its utmost to avoid specifically mentioning upload filters, in order to avoid the massive public criticism of that measure. The text they ended up with, however, was even
worse: It would make online platforms inescapably liable for any and all copyright infringement by their users, no matter what action they take. Not even the strictest upload filter in the world could possibly hope to catch 100% of unlicensed
This is what prompted YouTube's latest lobbying efforts in favour of upload filters and against the EP's proposal of inescapable liability. Many have mistaken this as lobbying against Article 13 as a whole -- it is not. In Monday's Financial
Times, YouTube spelled out that they would be quite happy with a law that forces everyone else to build (or, presumably, license from them) what they already have in place: Upload filters like Content ID.
In this latest draft, the Council Presidency sides with YouTube, going back to rather explicitly prescribing upload filters. The Council proposes two alternative options on how to phrase that requirement, but they match in effect:
Platforms are liable for all copyright infringements committed by their users, EXCEPT if they
cooperate with rightholders
by implementing effective and proportionate steps to prevent works they've been informed about from ever going online determining which steps those are must take into account suitable and effective technologies
Under this text, wherever upload filters are possible, they must be implemented: All your uploads will require prior approval by error-prone copyright bots .
On the good side, the Council Presidency seems open to adopting the Parliament's exception for platforms run by small and micro businesses . It also takes on board the EP's better-worded exception for open source code sharing platforms like
On the bad side, Council rejects Parliament's efforts for a stronger complaint mechanism requiring reviews by humans and an independent conflict resolution body. Instead it takes on board the EP's insistence that licenses taken out by a platform
don't even have to necessarily cover uses of these works by the users of that platform. So, for example, even if YouTube takes out a license to show a movie trailer, that license could still prevent you as an individual YouTuber from using that
trailer in your own uploads.
Article 11 Link tax
On the link tax, the Council is mostly sticking to its position: It wants the requirement to license even short snippets of news articles to last for one year after an article's publication, rather than five, as the Parliament proposed.
In a positive development, the Council Presidency adopts the EP's clarification that at least the facts included in news articles as such should not be protected. So a journalist would be allowed to report on what they read in another news
article, in their own words.
Council fails to clearly exclude hyperlinks -- even those that aren't accompanied by snippets from the article. It's not uncommon for the URLs of news articles themselves to include the article's headline. While the Council wants to exclude
insubstantial parts of articles from requiring a license, it's not certain that headlines count as insubstantial. (The Council's clause allowing acts of hyperlinking when they do not constitute communication to the public would not apply to such
cases, since reproducing the headline would in fact constitute such a communication to the public.)
The Council continues to want the right to only apply to EU-based news sources -- which could in effect mean fewer links and listings in search engines, social networks and aggregators for European sites, putting them at a global disadvantage.
However, it also proposes spelling out that news sites may give out free licenses if they so choose -- contrary to the Parliament, which stated that listing an article in a search engine should not be considered sufficient payment for reproducing
snippets from it.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron has announced a plan to effectively embed French state censors with Facebook to learn more about how to better censor the platform. He announced a six-month partnership with Facebook aimed at figuring out how
the European country should police hate speech on the social network.
As part of the cooperation both sides plan to meet regularly between now and May, when the European election is due to be held. They will focus on how the French government and Facebook can work together to censor content deemed 'harmful'.
It's a pilot program of a more structured engagement with the French government so that both sides can better understand the other's challenges in dealing with the issue of hate speech online. The program will allow a team of regulators, chosen
by the Elysee, to familiarize [itself] with the tools and processes set up by Facebook to fight against hate speech. The working group will not be based in one location but will travel to different Facebook facilities around the world, with
likely visits to Dublin and California. The purpose of this program is to enable regulators to better understand Facebook's tools and policies to combat hate speech and, for Facebook, to better understand the needs of regulators.
Pornographic Websites: Age Verification - Question
House of Lords on 5th November 2018 .
Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat
To ask Her Majesty 's Government what will be the commencement date for their plans to ensure that age-verification to prevent children accessing pornographic websites is implemented by the British Board of Film Classification .
Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
My Lords, we are now in the final stages of the process, and we have laid the BBFC 's draft guidance and the Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations before Parliament for approval. We will ensure that there is a sufficient period
following parliamentary approval for the public and the industry to prepare for age verification. Once parliamentary proceedings have concluded, we will set a date by which commercial pornography websites will need to be compliant, following an
implementation window. We expect that this date will be early in the new year.
I thank the Minister for his Answer. I cannot wait for that date to happen, but does he share my disgust and horror that social media companies such as Twitter state that their minimum age for membership is 13 yet make no attempt to restrict some
of the most gross forms of pornography being exchanged via their platforms? Unfortunately, the Digital Economy Act does not affect these companies because they are not predominantly commercial porn publishers. Does he agree that the BBFC needs to
develop mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of the legislation for restricting children's access to pornography via social media sites and put a stop to this unacceptable behaviour?
Lord Ashton of Hyde
My Lords, I agree that there are areas of concern on social media sites. As the noble Baroness rightly says, they are not covered by the Digital Economy Act . We had many hours of discussion about that in this House. However, she will be aware
that we are producing an online harms White Paper in the winter in which some of these issues will be considered. If necessary, legislation will be brought forward to address these, and not only these but other harms too. I agree that the BBFC
should find out about the effectiveness of the limited amount that age verification can do; it will commission research on that. Also, the Digital Economy Act itself made sure that the Secretary of State must review its effectiveness within 12 to
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)
My Lords, once again I find this issue raising a dynamic that we became familiar with in the only too recent past. The Government are to be congratulated on getting the Act on to the statute book and, indeed, on taking measures to identify a
regulator as well as to indicate that secondary legislation will be brought forward to implement a number of the provisions of the Act. My worry is that, under one section of the Digital Economy Act , financial penalties can be imposed on those
who infringe this need; the Government seem to have decided not to bring that provision into force at this time. I believe I can anticipate the Minister 's answer but--in view of the little drama we had last week over fixed-odds betting
machines--we would not want the Government, having won our applause in this way, to slip back into putting things off or modifying things away from the position that we had all agreed we wanted.
Lord Ashton of Hyde
My Lords, I completely understand where the noble Lord is coming from but what he said is not quite right. The Digital Economy Act included a power that the Government could bring enforcement with financial penalties through a regulator. However,
they decided--and this House decided--not to use that for the time being. For the moment, the regulator will act in a different way. But later on, if necessary, the Secretary of State could exercise that power. On timing and FOBTs, we thought
carefully--as noble Lords can imagine--before we said that we expect the date will be early in the new year,
Lord Addington Liberal Democrat
My Lords, does the Minister agree that good health and sex education might be a way to counter some of the damaging effects? Can the Government make sure that is in place as soon as possible, so that this strange fantasy world is made slightly
Lord Ashton of Hyde
The noble Lord is of course right that age verification itself is not the only answer. It does not cover every possibility of getting on to a pornography site. However, it is the first attempt of its kind in the world, which is why not only we
but many other countries are looking at it. I agree that sex education in schools is very important and I believe it is being brought into the national curriculum already.
The Earl of Erroll Crossbench
Why is there so much wriggle room in section 6 of the guidance from the DCMS to the AV regulator? The ISP blocking probably will not work, because everyone will just get out of it. If we bring this into disrepute then the good guys, who would
like to comply, probably will not; they will not be able to do so economically. All that was covered in British Standard PAS 1296, which was developed over three years. It seems to have been totally ignored by the DCMS. You have spent an awful
lot of time getting there, but you have not got there.
Lord Ashton of Hyde
One of the reasons this has taken so long is that it is complicated. We in the DCMS , and many others, not least in this House, have spent a long time discussing the best way of achieving this. I am not immediately familiar with exactly what
section 6 says, but when the statutory instrument comes before this House--it is an affirmative one to be discussed--I will have the answer ready for the noble Earl.
Lord West of Spithead Labour
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the possession of a biometric card by the population would make the implementation of things such as this very much easier?
Lord Ashton of Hyde
In some ways it would, but there are problems with people who either do not want to or cannot have biometric cards.
Following the conclusion of their consultation period, the BBFC have issued new age verification guidance that has been laid before Parliament. It is unclear why, if the government now recognises that privacy protections
like this are needed, the government would also leave the requirements as voluntary.
The new code has some important improvements, notably the introduction of a voluntary scheme for privacy, close to or based on a GDPR Code of Conduct. This is a good idea, but should not be put in place as a voluntary
arrangement. Companies may not want the attention of a regulator, or may simply wish to apply lower or different standards, and ignore it. It is unclear why, if the government now recognises that privacy protections like this are needed, the
government would also leave the requirements as voluntary.
We are also concerned that the voluntary scheme may not be up and running before the AV requirement is put in place. Given that 25 million UK adults are expected to sign up to these products within a few months of its
launch, this would be very unhelpful.
Parliament should now:
Ask the government why the privacy scheme is to be voluntary, if the risks of relying on general data protection law are now recognised;
Ask for assurance from BBFC that the voluntary scheme will cover the all of the major operators; and
Ask for assurance from BBFC and DCMS that the voluntary privacy scheme will be up and running before obliging operators to put Age Verification measures in place.
The Digital Economy Act does not allow the BBFC to judge age verification tools by any standard other than whether or not they sufficiently verify age. We asked that the BBFC persuade the DCMS that statutory requirements for
privacy and security were required for age verification tools.
The BBFC have clearly acknowledged privacy and security concerns with age verification in their response. However, the BBFC indicate in their response that they have been working with the ICO and DCMS to create a
voluntary certification scheme for age verification providers:
"This voluntary certification scheme will mean that age-verification providers may choose to be independently audited by a third party and then certified by the Age-verification Regulator. The third party's audit will
include an assessment of an age-verification solution's compliance with strict privacy and data security requirements."
The lack of a requirement for additional and specific privacy regulation in the Digital Economy Act is the cause for this voluntary approach.
While a voluntary scheme above is likely to be of some assistance in promoting better standards among age verification providers, the "strict privacy and data security requirements" which the voluntary scheme
mentions are not a statutory requirement, leaving some consumers at greater risk than others.
Sensitive Personal Data
The data handled by age verification systems is sensitive personal data. Age verification services must directly identify users in order to accurately verify age. Users will be viewing pornographic content, and the data
about what specific content a user views is highly personal and sensitive. This has potentially disastrous consequences for individuals and families if the data is lost, leaked, or stolen.
Following a hack affecting Ashley Madison -- a dating website for extramarital affairs -- a number of the site's users were driven to suicide as a result of the public exposure of their sexual activities and interests.
For the purposes of GDPR, data handled by age verification systems falls under the criteria for sensitive personal data, as it amounts to "data concerning a natural person's sex life or sexual orientation".
It is of critical importance that any accreditation scheme for age verification providers, or GDPR code of conduct if one is established, is in place and functional before enforcement of the age verification provisions in
the Digital Economy Act commences. All of the major providers who are expected to dominate the age verification market should undergo their audit under the scheme before consumers will be expected to use the tool. This is especially true when
considering the fact that MindGeek have indicated their expectation that 20-25 million UK adults will sign up to their tool within the first few months of operation. A voluntary accreditation scheme that begins enforcement after all these people
have already signed up would be unhelpful.
Consumers should be empowered to make informed decisions about the age verification tools that they choose from the very first day of enforcement. No delays are acceptable if users are expected to rely upon the scheme to
inform themselves about the safety of their data. If this cannot be achieved prior to the start of expected enforcement of the DE Act's provisions, then the planned date for enforcement should be moved back to allow for the accreditation to be
Issues with Lack of Consumer Choice
It is of vital importance that consumers, if they must verify their age, are given a choice of age verification providers when visiting a site. This enables users to choose which provider they trust with their highly
sensitive age verification data and prevents one actor from dominating the market and thereby promoting detrimental practices with data. The BBFC also acknowledge the importance of this in their guidance, noting in 3.8:
"Although not a requirement under section 14(1) the BBFC recommends that online commercial pornography services offer a choice of age-verification methods for the end-user".
This does not go far enough to acknowledge the potential issues that may arise in a fragmented market where pornographic sites are free to offer only a single tool if they desire.
Without a statutory requirement for sites to offer all appropriate and available tools for age verification and log in purposes, it is likely that a market will be established in which one or two tools dominate. Smaller
sites will then be forced to adopt these dominant tools as well, to avoid friction with consumers who would otherwise be required to sign up to a new provider.
This kind of market for age verification tools will provide little room for a smaller provider with a greater commitment to privacy or security to survive and robs users of the ability to choose who they trust with their
We already called for it to be made a statutory requirement that pornographic sites must offer a choice of providers to consumers who must age verify, however this suggestion has not been taken up.
We note that the BBFC has been working with the ICO and DCMS to produce a voluntary code of conduct. Perhaps a potential alternative solution would be to ensure that a site is only considered compliant if it offers users a
number of tools which has been accredited under the additional privacy and security requirements of the voluntary scheme.
GDPR Codes of Conduct
A GDPR "Code of Conduct" is a mechanism for providing guidelines to organisations who process data in particular ways, and allows them to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the GDPR.
A code of conduct is voluntary, but compliance is continually monitored by an appropriate body who are accredited by a supervisory authority. In this case, the "accredited body" would likely be the BBFC, and the
"supervisory authority" would be the ICO. The code of conduct allows for certifications, seals and marks which indicate clearly to consumers that a service or product complies with the code.
Codes of conduct are expected to provide more specific guidance on exactly how data may be processed or stored. In the case of age verification data, the code could contain stipulations on:
Appropriate pseudonymisation of stored data;
Data and metadata retention periods;
Data minimisation recommendations;
Appropriate security measures for data storage;
Security breach notification procedures;
Re-use of data for other purposes.
The BBFC's proposed "voluntary standard" regime appears to be similar to a GDPR code of conduct, though it remains to be seen how specific the stipulations in the BBFC's standard are. A code of conduct would also
involve being entered into the ICO's public register of UK approved codes of conduct, and the EPDB's public register for all codes of conduct in the EU.
Similarly, GDPR Recital 99 notes that "relevant stakeholders, including data subjects" should be consulted during the drafting period of a code of conduct - a requirement which is not in place for the BBFC's
It is possible that the BBFC have opted to create this voluntary scheme for age verification providers rather than use a code of conduct, because they felt they may not meet the GDPR requirements to be considered as an
appropriate body to monitor compliance. Compliance must be monitored by a body who has demonstrated:
Their expertise in relation to the subject-matter;
They have established procedures to assess the ability of data processors to apply the code of conduct;
They have the ability to deal with complaints about infringements; and
Their tasks do not amount to a conflict of interest.
Parties Involved in the Code of Conduct Process
As noted by GDPR Recital 99, a consultation should be a public process which involves stakeholders and data subjects, and their responses should be taken into account during the drafting period:
"When drawing up a code of conduct, or when amending or extending such a code, associations and other bodies representing categories of controllers or processors should consult relevant stakeholders, including data
subjects where feasible , and have regard to submissions received and views expressed in response to such consultations."
The code of conduct must be approved by a relevant supervisory authority (in this case the ICO).
An accredited body (BBFC) that establishes a code of conduct and monitors compliance is able to establish their own structures and procedures under GDPR Article 41 to handle complaints regarding infringements of the code, or
regarding the way it has been implemented. BBFC would be liable for failures to regulate the code properly under Article 41(4),
 however DCMS appear to have accepted the principle that the government would need to protect BBFC from such liabilities.
GDPR Codes of Conduct and Risk Management
Below is a table of risks created by age verification which we identified during the consultation process. For each risk, we have considered whether a GDPR code of conduct may help to mitigate the effects of it.
User identity may be correlated with viewed content.
This risk can never be entirely mitigated if AV is to go ahead, but a CoC could contain very strict restrictions on what identifying data could be stored after a successful age verification.
Identity may be associated to an IP address, location or device.
It would be very difficult for a CoC to mitigate this risk as the only safe mitigation would be not to collect user identity information.
An age verification provider could track users across all the websites it's tool is offered on.
Strict rules could be put in place about what data an age verification provider may store, and what data it is forbidden from storing.
Users may be incentivised to consent to further processing of their data in exchange for rewards (content, discounts etc.)
Age verification tools could be expressly forbidden from offering anything in exchange for user consent.
Leaked data creates major risks for identified individuals and cannot be revoked or adequately compensated for.
A CoC can never fully mitigate this risk if any data is being collected, but it could contain strict prohibitions on storing certain information and specify retention periods after which data must be destroyed, which may
mitigate the impacts of a data breach.
Risks to the user of access via shared computers if viewing history is stored alongside age verification data.
A CoC could specify that any accounts for pornographic websites which may track viewed content must be strictly separate and not in any visible way linked to a user's age verification account or data that confirms their
Age verification systems are likely to trade off convenience for security. (No 2FA, auto-login, etc.)
A CoC could stipulate that login cookies that "remember" a returning user must only persist for a short time period, and should recommend or enforce two-factor authentication.
The need to re-login to age verification services to access pornography in "private browsing" mode may lead people to avoid using this feature and generate much more data which is then stored.
A CoC cannot fix this issue. Private browsing by nature will not store any login cookies or other objects and will require the user to re-authenticate with age verification providers every time they wish to view adult
Users may turn to alternative tools to avoid age verification, which carry their own security risks. (Especially "free" VPN services or peer-to-peer networks).
Many UK adults, although over 18, will be uncomfortable with the need to submit identity documents to verify their age and will seek alternative means to access content. It is unlikely that many of these individuals will
be persuaded by an accreditation under a GDPR code.
Age verification login details may be traded and shared among teenagers or younger children, which could lead to bullying or "outing" if such details are linked to viewed content.
Strict rules could be put in place about what data an age verification provider may store, and what data it is forbidden from storing.
Child abusers could use their access to age verified content as an adult as leverage to create and exploit relationships with children and teenagers seeking access to such content (grooming).
This risk will exist as long as age verification is providing a successful barrier to accessing such content for under-18s who wish to do so.
The sensitivity of content dealt with by age verification services means that users who fall victim to phishing scams or fraud have a lower propensity to report it to the relevant authorities.
A CoC or education campaign may help consumers identify trustworthy services, but it can not fix the core issue, which is that users are being socialised into it being "normal" to input their identity details
into websites in exchange for pornography. Phishing scams resulting from age verification will appear and will be common, and the sensitivity of the content involved is a disincentive to reporting it.
The use of credit cards as an age verification mechanism creates an opportunity for fraudulent sites to engage in credit card theft.
Phishing and fraud will be common. A code of conduct which lists compliant sites and tools externally on the ICO website may be useful, but a phishing site may simply pretend to be another (compliant) tool, or rely on the
fact that users are unlikely to check with the ICO every time they wish to view pornographic content.
The rush to get age verification tools to market means they may take significant shortcuts when it comes to privacy and security.
A CoC could assist in solving this issue if tools are given time to be assessed for compliance before the age verification regime commences .
A single age verification provider may come to dominate the market, leaving users little choice but to accept whatever terms the provider offers.
Practically, a CoC could mitigate some of the effects of an age verification tool monopoly if the dominant tool is accredited under the Code. However, this relies on users being empowered to demand compliance with a CoC,
and it is possible that users will instead be left with a "take it or leave it" situation where the dominant tool is not CoC accredited.
Allowing pornography "monopolies" such as MindGeek to operate age verification tools is a conflict of interest.
As the BBFC note in their consultation response, it would not be reasonable to prohibit a pornographic content provider from running an age verification service as it would prevent any site from running their own tool.
However, under a CoC it is possible that a degree of separation could be enforced that requires an age verification tools to adhere to strict rules about the use of data, which could mitigate the effects of a large pornographic content
provider attempting to collect as much user data as possible for their own business purposes.
 "Infringements of the following provisions shall, in accordance with paragraph 2, be subject to administrative fines up to 10 000 000 EUR, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 2
% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher: the obligations of the monitoring body pursuant to Article 41(4)."
 "contingent liability will provide indemnity to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) against legal proceedings brought against the BBFC in its role as the age
verification regulator for online pornography."
Microsoft has just inflicted a new 'code of conduct' that prohibits customers communicating nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence and criminal activity, whilst allowing Microsoft to steal the money in your
If users are found to have shared, or be in possession of, these types of content, Microsoft can suspend or ban the particular user and remove funds or balance on the associated account.
It also appears that Microsoft reserves the right to view user content to investigate violations to these terms. This means it has access to your message history and shared files (including on OneDrive, another Microsoft property) if it thinks
you've been sharing prohibited material.
Unsurprisingly, few users are happy that Microsoft is willing to delve through their personal data.
Microsoft has not made it clear if it will automatically detect and censor prohibited content or if it will reply on a reporting system. On top of that, Microsoft hasn't clearly defined its vague terms. Nobody is clear on what the limit on
offensive language is.
Facebook has files a patent that describes a method of using the devices of Facebook app users to identify various wireless signals from the devices of other users.
It explains how Facebook could use those signals to measure exactly how close the two devices are to one another and for how long, and analyses that data to infer whether it is likely that the two users have met. The patent also suggests the app
could record how often devices are close to one another, the duration and time of meetings, and can even use its gyroscope and accelerometer to analyse movement patterns, for example whether the two users may be going for a jog, smooching or
catching a bus together.
Facebook's algorithm would use this data to analyse how likely it is that the two users have met, even if they're not friends on Facebook and have no other connections to one another. This might be based on the pattern of inferred meetings, such
as whether the two devices are close to one another for an hour every Thursday, and an algorithm would determine whether the two users meeting was sufficiently significant to recommend them to each other and/or friends of friends.
I don't suppose that Facebook can claim this patent though as police and the security services have no doubt been using this technique for years.
Speaking at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has launched a campaign to persuade governments, companies and individuals to sign a Contract for the Web with a set of principles intended to
defend a free and open internet.
Contract for the Web CORE PRINCIPLES
The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. Everyone has a role to play to ensure the web serves humanity. By committing to the following principles, governments, companies and citizens around the world can
help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.
Ensure everyone can connect to the internet so that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
Keep all of the internet available, all of the time so that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
Respect people's fundamental right to privacy so everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.
Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone so that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
Respect consumers' privacy and personal data so people are in control of their lives online.
Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst so the web really is a public good that puts people first.
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
We commit to uphold these principles and to engage in a deliberative process to build a full "Contract for the Web", which will set out the roles and responsibilities of governments, companies and citizens. The challenges facing the web
today are daunting and affect us in all our lives, not just when we are online. But if we work together and each of us takes responsibility for our actions, we can protect a web that truly is for everyone.
Gab, the social media site that prides itself as being uncensored, has been forced offline by its service providers after it became clear that the alleged Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers had a history of anti-semitic postings on the site.
Formed in August 2016 after Twitter began cracking down on hate speech on its social network, Gab describes itself as a free speech website and nothing more. But the platform has proved popular among the alt-right and far right, including the man
accused of opening fire on a synagogue in Pennsylvania on Saturday, killing 11.
In the hours following the attack, when the suspect's postings were discovered on the site, Gab's corporate partners abandoned it one by one. PayPal and Stripe, two of the company's payment providers, dropped it, arguing that it breached policies
around hate speech.
Cloud-hosting company Joyent also withdrew service on Sunday, giving Gab 24 hours notice of its suspension, as did GoDaddy, the site's domain registrar, which provides the Gab.com address. Both companies said the site had breached their terms of
Gab responded in a statement:
We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors, the company said in a statement posted to its site. We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression
and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed in Pittsburgh.
Gab is back online following censorship in the wake of the anti-Semitic shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The social network had been banned by its hosting provider Joyent and domain registrar GoDaddy, and blacklisted by other services such as
PayPal , Stripe and Shopify.
Now, Gab has come back online and has found a new hosting provider in Epik. According to a blog post published on November 3rd, Epik CEO Robert Monster spoke out against the idea of digital censorship and decided to provide hosting privileges to
Gab because he looks forward to partnering with a young, and once brash, CEO who is courageously doing something that looks useful.
Reforms to the law are required to protect victims from online and social media-based abuse, according to a new Report by the Law Commission for England and Wales.
In its Scoping Report assessing the state of the law in this area, published today [1st November 2018] the Law Commission raises concerns about the lack of coherence in the current criminal law and the problems this causes
for victims, police and prosecutors. It is also critical of the current law's ability to protect people harmed by a range of behaviour online including:
Receiving abusive and offensive communications
"Pile on" harassment, often on social media
Misuse of private images and information
The Commission is calling for:
reform and consolidation of existing criminal laws dealing with offensive and abusive communications online
a specific review considering how the law can more effectively protect victims who are subject to a campaign of online harassment
a review of how effectively the criminal law protects personal privacy online
Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for Criminal Law said:
"As the internet and social media have become an everyday part of our lives, online abuse has become commonplace for many."
"Our report highlights the ways in which the criminal law is not keeping pace with these technological changes. We identify the areas of the criminal law most in need of reform in order to protect victims and hold
perpetrators to account."
Responding to the Report, Digital Minister Margot James said:
"Behaviour that is illegal offline should be treated the same when it's committed online. We've listened to victims of online abuse as it's important that the right legal protections are in place to meet the challenges
of new technology.
"There is much more to be done and we'll be considering the Law Commission's findings as we develop a White Paper setting out new laws to make the UK a safer place to be online.
Jess Phillips MP, Chair, and Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Co-Chair, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse and Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, welcomed the Report saying:
"Online abuse has a devastating impact on survivors and makes them feel as though the abuse is inescapable. Online abuse does not happen in the 'virtual world' in isolation; 85% of survivors surveyed by Women's Aid
experienced a pattern of online abuse together with offline abuse. Yet too often it is not taken as seriously as abuse 'in the real world'.
"The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse has long called for legislation in this area to be reviewed to ensure that survivors are protected and perpetrators of online abuse held to account. We
welcome the Law Commission's report, which has found that gaps and inconsistencies in the law mean survivors are being failed. We support the call for further review and reform of the law".
The need for reform
We were asked to assess whether the current criminal law achieved parity of treatment between online and offline offending. For the most part, we have concluded that abusive online communications are, at least theoretically,
criminalised to the same or even a greater degree than equivalent offline offending. However, we consider there is considerable scope for reform:
Many of the applicable offences do not adequately reflect the nature of some of the offending behaviour in the online environment, and the degree of harm it can cause.
Practical and cultural barriers mean that not all harmful online conduct is pursued in terms of criminal law enforcement to the same extent that it might be in an offline context.
More generally, criminal offences could be improved so they are clearer and more effectively target serious harm and criminality.
The large number of overlapping offences can cause confusion.
Ambiguous terms such as "gross offensiveness" "obscenity" and "indecency" don't provide the required clarity for prosecutors.
Reforms would help to reduce and tackle, not only online abuse and offence generally but also:
"Pile on" harassment , where online harassment is coordinated against an individual. The Report notes that "in practice, it appears that the criminal law is having little effect in punishing and
deterring certain forms of group abuse".
The most serious privacy breaches -- for example the Report highlights concerns about the laws around sharing of private sexual images. It also questions whether the law is adequate to deal with victims who find
their personal information e.g. about their health or sexual history, widely spread online.
Impact on victims
The Law Commission heard from those affected by this kind of criminal behaviour including victims' groups, the charities that support them, MPs and other high-profile victims.
The Report analyses the scale of online offending and suggests that studies show that the groups in society most likely to be affected by abusive communications online include women, young people, ethnic minorities and
LGBTQ individuals. For example, the Report finds that gender-based online hate crime, particularly misogynistic abuse, is particularly prevalent and damaging.
It also sets out the factors which make online abuse so common -- including the disinhibition of communicating with an unseen victim and the ease with which victims can be identified.
The Report highlights harms caused to the victims of online abuse which include:
psychological effects, such as depression and anxiety
emotional harms, such as feelings of shame, loneliness and distress
physiological harms, including suicide and self-harm in the most extreme cases
exclusion from public online space and corresponding feelings of isolation
wider societal harms
It concludes that abuse by groups of offenders online, and the use of visual images to perpetrate abuse are two of the ways in which online abuse can be aggravated.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will now analyse the Report and decide on the next steps including what further work the Law Commission can do to produce recommendations for how the criminal law
can be improved to tackle online abuse.
Comment: Law Commission must safeguard freedom of expression
Index on Censorship urges the Law Commission to safeguard freedom of expression as it moves towards the second phase of its review of abusive and offensive online communications.
The Law Commission
published a report on the first phase of its review of criminal law in this area on 1 November 2018.
While Index welcomes the report's recognition that current UK law lacks clarity and certainty, the review is addressing questions that impact directly on freedom of expression and the Law Commission should now proceed with great caution.
Safeguarding the fundamental right to freedom of expression should be a guiding principle for the the Law Commission's next steps. Successive court rulings have confirmed that freedom of expression includes having and expressing views that
offend, shock or disturb. As Lord Justice Sir Stephen Sedley said in a 1999 ruling:
"Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not
The next phase of the review should outline how the UK can show global leadership by setting an example for how to improve outdated legislation in a way that ensures freedom of expression, including speech that is contentious, unwelcome and
Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg said:
"Index will be studying the Law Commission's first phase report on its review of abusive and offensive online communications carefully. Future proposals could have a very negative impact on freedom of expression online and in other areas.
Index urges the Law Commission to proceed with care."
The advert censors of ASA have published a five year strategy, with a focus on more censorship of online advertising including exploring the use of machine learning in regulation.
The strategy will be officially launched at an ASA conference in Manchester, entitled The Future of Ad Regulation.
ASA explains the highlights of its strategy:
We will prioritise the protection of vulnerable people and appropriately limiting children and young people's exposure to age-restricted ads in sectors like food, gambling and alcohol We will listen in new ways, including research, data-driven
intelligence gathering and machine learning 203 our own or that of others - to find out which other advertising-related issues are the most important to tackle We will develop our thought-leadership in online ad regulation, including on
advertising content and targeting issues relating to areas like voice, facial recognition, machine-generated personalised content and biometrics We will explore lighter-touch ways for people to flag concerns We will explore whether our
decision-making processes and governance always allow us to act nimbly, in line with people's expectations of regulating an increasingly online advertising world We will explore new technological solutions, including machine learning, to improve
Online trends are reflected in the balance of our workload - 88% of the 7,099 ads amended or withdrawn in 2017 following our action were online ads, either in whole or in part. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the 19,000 cases we resolved last year were
about online ads.
Our guiding principle is that people should benefit from the same level of protection against irresponsible online ads as they do offline. The ad rules apply just as strongly online as they do to ads in more traditional media.
Our recent rebalancing towards more proactive regulation has had a positive impact, evidenced by steep rises in the number of ads withdrawn or changed (7,009 last year, up 47% on 2016) and the number of pieces of advice and training delivered to
businesses (on course to exceed 400,000 this year). This emphasis on proactive regulation -- intervening before people need to complain about problematic ads -- will continue under the new strategy.
The launch event - The Future of Ad Regulation conference - will take place at Manchester Central Convention Complex on 1 November. Speakers will include Professor Tanya Byron, Reg Bailey, BBC Breakfast's Tina Daheley, Marketing Week's Russell
Parsons, ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker and ASA Chairman David Currie.
Online ASA Chief Executive, Guy Parker said:
We're a much more proactive regulator as a result of the work we've done in the last five years. In the next five, we want to have even more impact regulating online advertising. Online is already well over half of our regulation, but we've more
work to do to take further steps towards our ambition of making every UK ad a responsible ad.
Lord Currie, Chairman of the ASA said:
The new strategy will ensure that protecting consumers remains at the heart of what we do but that our system is also fit for purpose when regulating newer forms of advertising. This also means harnessing new technology to improve our ways of
working in identifying problem ads.
Prior to Google's bosses being called in to answer for its policy to silence conservative voices, it has filed a statement to court saying that even if it does discriminate on the basis of political viewpoints. It said:
Not only would it be wrong to compel a private company to guarantee free speech in the way that government censorship is forbidden by the Constitution, but it would also have disastrous practical consequences.
Google argued that the First Amendment appropriately limits the government's ability to censor speech, but applying those limitations to private online platforms would undermine important content regulation. If they are bound by the same First
Amendment rules that apply to the government, YouTube and other service providers would lose much of their ability to protect their users against offensive or objectionable content -- including pornography, hate speech, personal attacks, and