A parliamentary committee is trying to get heavy with Facebook and Twitter over the release of details about Russian elections interference.
Damian Collins, chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which is looking into so-called fake news, has given the companies until 18 January to correct their failure to hand over information he requested about Russian
misinformation campaigns on their platforms. He said:
There has to be a way of scrutinising the procedures that companies like Facebook put in place to help them identify known sources of disinformation, particularly when it's politically motivated and coming from another country.
They need to be able to tell us what they can do about it. And what we need to be able to do is say to the companies: we recognise that you are best placed to monitor what is going on your own site and to get the balance right in taking action
against it but also safeguarding the privacy of users.
But what there has to be then is some mechanism of saying: if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction
In a letter to Twitter this month, Collins wrote:
The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate ... It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.
Here's what worries cybersecurity experts: All age verification options would create a permanent record indicating that a user had visited a porn site. They could possibly even record the porn that the visitor had watched.
Matt Tait, a cybersecurity expert formerly of the GCHQ (the United Kingdom's equivalent of the National Security Agency) who now teaches at the University of Texas, notes that any registration system could be a monumental national security risk.
He adds, It's beyond insane they're even considering it.
Tait envisions a time coming soon, when a British government official will have to give the following message to the Prime Minister:
Sorry Prime Minister, Russia now knows what porn every MP, civil servant and clearance holder watches and when, and we don't know how much of it they've given to Wikileaks.
If porn consumers in the United Kingdom are the losers, Tait suggests there is a potential winner: Vladimir Putin.
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.
Charlie Pearce has been convicted of attempted murder. He was obsessed with sexually violent images when he raped and bludgeoned his victim on his 17th birthday, leaving her for dead.
Feminists have used the case to call for an extension to Britain's porn censorship laws about violent porn in particular, and of course, for a wider ban of porn. Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
This case is extremely disturbing and the age of the offender should alarm us all. The evidence about his searches for online porn before the attack tell us that we urgently need public discussion about the contents of contemporary online
pornography, its accessibility and what is known about the way it influences those who use it.
It is currently a criminal offence in England and Wales to possess pornographic material which is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise obscene and explicitly and realistically depicts life threatening and serious injury.
However pornographic material that is obviously scripted and not realistic is legal. Feminists claim the vast majority of images depicting rape are therefore lawful to possess.
The UK's domestic pornography industry is being screwed by age verification laws unveiled by the Government.
New laws passed as part of the Digital Economy Act will require websites hosting pornographic material to verify the ages of visitors from the UK or face being blocked by ISPs.
Pandora/Blake, who described themself as a feminist pornographer, as well as obscenity lawyer and legal officer at Open Rights Group Myles Jackman, told Sky News that this posed an enormous privacy risk to viewers.
They argue the age verification requirements may harm small businesses and curtail the freedom of expression by allowing multinational pornography giants to monopolise the industry.
Many of the most popular pornographic websites (Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn) and production studios (Brazzers, Digital Playground) are owned by one company: MindGeek.
MindGeek stands to increase its already considerable market share by offering age verification services to smaller sites.
Pandora/Blake said the Government is refusing to engage with pornographers who are concerned the laws will harm their business.
Age checks are going to be expensive, they said, noting figures given to them ranged from 2£0.05 to 2£1.50 per age check. If you know anything about the economics of porn you realise that if you're paying a cost per viewer, rather than per
customer, then you're going to be orders of magnitude making a loss.
I'm seeing a lot of smaller sites simply giving up pre-emptively. There's already a chilling effect of sites not knowing how they're going to possibly be able to comply, said Pandora/Blake.
A Government spokesperson told Sky News that the BBFC was the intended regulator for the age verification system, and would be required to publish guidance regarding the arrangements for making pornographic material available in a compliant
The BBFC said that as it had not yet been appointed the regulator, it could not comment on the concerns raised to Sky News.
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 chairman of the media censor Ofcom has said she believes internet businesses such as Google and Facebook are publishers, and so should be regulated by the state.
Patricia Hodgson also revealed that the board of Ofcom discussed how the internet could be regulated in the future at a strategy day last week, although she said this was ultimately a matter for the government.
Hodgson was speaking to MPs at a hearing of the digital, culture, media and sport committee. Asked about the rise of fake news and whether internet companies should face greater regulation, Hodgson said:
Those particular distribution systems [Facebook, Google, Twitter etc] are not within Ofcom's responsibility but we feel very strongly about the integrity of news in this country and we are totally supportive of steps that should and need to be
taken to improve matters.
My personal view is I see this as an issue that is finally being grasped -- certainly within the EU, certainly within this country -- and to my amazement and interest, being asked in the United States as a result of the potential Russian
scandals. My personal view is that they are publishers but that is only my personal view, that is not an Ofcom view. As I said, Ofcom is simply concerned about the integrity of news and very supportive of the debate and the steps that are being
Theresa May's spokesman said Hodgson's comments were a matter for her as an independent regulator, but indicated that ministers were sympathetic.
Sharon White, the chief executive of Ofcom, said she was wary of regulating internet companies. We feel strongly that the platforms as publishers have got more responsibility to ensure the right content, she said. I don't think it's a question of
regulation, which I think has a fuzzy boundary with censorship, but I think we feel strongly that the platforms ought to be doing more to ensure their content can be trusted.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced a new national hub to tackle online hate crime.
It will be run by police officers for the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) with the aim of ensuring that online cases are managed effectively and efficiently.
The hub will receive complaints through Truevision, the police website for reporting hate crime, following which they will be assessed and assigned to the local force for investigation. Specialist officers will provide case management and support
and advice to victims of online hate crime.
Its functions will include combining duplicate reports, trying to identify perpetrators, referring appropriate cases to online platforms hosting relevant content, providing evidence for local recording and response, and updating the complainant
on progress. It will also provide intelligence to the National Intelligence Model, the police database that gathers intelligence on a range of crimes.
The Home Office said the hub will ensure all online cases are properly investigated and will help to increase prosecutions for online hate crimes. It should also simplify processes and help to prevent any duplication in investigations.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said:
The national online hate crime hub that we are funding is an important step to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report the vile abuse to which they are being subjected.
The hub will also improve our understanding of the scale and nature of this despicable form of abuse. With the police, we will use this new intelligence to adapt our response so that even more victims are safeguarded and perpetrators punished.
The hub is expected to be operational before the end of the year.