The Government has been very secretive about its progress towards the starting of internet censorship for porn in the UK. Meanwhile the appointed internet porn censor, the BBFC, has withdrawn into its shell to hide from the flak. It has uttered hardly a
helpful word on the subject in the last six months, just at a time when newspapers have been printing uniformed news items based on old guesstimates of when the scheme will start.
The last target date was specified months ago when DCMS minister Margot
James suggested that it was intended to get the scheme going around Easter of 2019. This date was not achieved but the newspapers seem to have jumped to the conclusion that the scheme would start on 1st April 2019. The only official response to this
false news is that the DCMS will now be announcing the start date shortly.
So what has been going on?
Well it seems that maybe the government realised that asking porn websites and age verification services to demand that porn users
identify themselves without any real legal protection on how that data can be used is perhaps not the wisest thing to do. Jim Killock of Open Rights Group explains that the delays are due to serious concerns about privacy and data collection:
When they consulted about the shape of age verification last summer they were surprised to find that nearly everyone who wrote back to them in that consultation said this was a privacy disaster and they need to make sure
people's data doesn't get leaked out.
Because if it does it could be that people are outed, have their relationships break down, their careers could be damaged, even for looking at legal material.
delays have been very much to do with the fact that privacy has been considered at the last minute and they're having to try to find some way to make these services a bit safer. It's introduced a policy to certify some of the products as better for
privacy (than others) but it's not compulsory and anybody who chooses one of those products might find they (the companies behind the sites) opt out of the privacy scheme at some point in the future.
And there are huge commercial
pressures to do this because as we know with Facebook and Google user data is extremely valuable, it tells you lots about what somebody likes or dislikes or might want or not want.
So those commercial pressures will kick in and
they'll try to start to monetise that data and all of that data if it leaked out would be very damaging to people so it should simply never be collected.
So the government has been working on a voluntary kite mark scheme to approve
age verifiers that can demonstrate to an auditor they will keep user data safe. This scheme seems to be in its early stages as the audit policy was first outlines to age verifiers on 13th March 2019. AvSecure reported on Twitter:
Friday saw several AV companies meet with the BBFC & the accreditation firm, who presented the framework & details of the proposed scheme.
Whilst the scheme itself seems very deep & comprehensive,
there were several questions asked that we are all awaiting answers on.
The Register reports that AgeID has already commissioned a data security audit using the information security company, the NCC Group. Perhaps that company can
therefore be rapidly approved by the official auditor, whose identity seems to being kept secret.
So the implementation schedule must presumably be that the age verifiers get audited over the next couple of months and then after that the
government can give websites the official 3 months notice required to give websites time to implement the now accredited age verification schemes.
The commencement date will perhaps be about 5 or 6 months from now.
The Observer today published an article generally supporting the upcoming porn censorship and age verification regime. It did have one interesting point to note though:
Brexit's impact on the pornography industry has gone
unnoticed. But the chaos caused by the UK's disorderly exit from the European Union even stretches into the grubbier parts of cyberspace.
A new law forcing pornography users to prove that they are adults was supposed to be
introduced early next month. But sources told the Observer that it may not be unveiled until after the Brexit impasse is resolved as the government, desperate for other things to talk about, believes it will be a good news story that will play well with
the public when it is eventually unveiled.
Comment: The illiberal Observer
25th March 2019. Thanks to Alan
Bloody hell! Have you seen this fuckwittage from the purportedly liberal Observer?
Posh-boy churnalist Jamie (definitely not Jim) Doward regurgitates the bile of authoritarian feminist Gail Dines about the crackpot attempt to stop children accessing a bit of porn. This is total bollox.
getting on for sixty years since I spotted that my girl contemporaries were taking on a different and interesting shape - a phenomenon I researched by reference to two bodies of literature: those helpful little books for the amateur and professional
photographer in which each photo of a lady was accompanied by F number and exposure time and those periodicals devoted to naturism. This involved no greater subterfuge than taking off my school cap and turning up my raincoat collar to hide my school tie.
I would fervently hope that today's lads can run rings round parental controls and similar nonsense.
The UK education secretary Damian Hinds is calling on payments firms such as PayPal to block transactions for essay writing firms, in a bid to beat university cheats.
Hinds says it is unethical for these companies to profit from this dishonest
A PayPal spokesman says an internal review is already under way into essay-writing services.
The Quality Assurance Agency wrote to PayPal in November calling on the firm to close down the payment facilities for the essay-writing
companies that encourage students to cheat. But the university standards watchdog says there has not been any indication of any change in policy.
Sky News has learned that the government has delayed setting a date for when age verification rules will come into force due to concerns regarding the security and human rights issues posed by the rules. A DCMS representative said:
This is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online.
The government, and the BBFC as the regulator, have taken the time to get this
right and we will announce a commencement date shortly.
Previously the government indicated that age verification would start from about Easter but the law states that 3 months notice must be given for the start date. Official notice
has yet to be published so the earliest it could start is already June 2019.
The basic issue is that the Digital Economy Act underpinning age verification does not mandate that identity data and browsing provided of porn users should be protected
by law. The law makers thought that GDPR would be sufficient for data protection, but in fact it only requires that user consent is required for use of that data. All it requires is for users to tick the consent box, probably without reading the
deliberately verbose or vague terms and conditions provided. After getting the box ticked the age verifier can then do more or less what they want to do with the data.
Realising that this voluntary system is hardly ideal, and that the world's
largest internet porn company Mindgeek is likely to become the monopoly gatekeeper of the scheme, the government has moved on to considering some sort of voluntary kitemark scheme to try and convince porn users that an age verification company can be
trusted with the data. The kitemark scheme would appoint an audit company to investigate the age verification implementations and to approve those that use good practises.
I would guess that this scheme is difficult to set up as it would be a
major risk for audit companies to approve age verification systems based upon voluntary data protection rules. If an 'approved' company were later found to be selling, misusing data or even getting hacked, then the auditor could be sued for negligent
advice, whilst the age verification company could get off scot-free.
Pornhub and sister websites will soon require ID from users before being able to browse its porn.
The government most recently suggested that this requirement would start from about Easter this year, but this date has already slipped. The government
will give 3 months notice of the start date and as this has not yet been announced, the earliest start date is currently in June.
Pornhub and YouPorn will use the AgeID system, which requires users to identify themselves with an email address and
a credit card, passport, driving licence or an age verified mobile phone number.
Metro.co.uk spoke to a spokesperson from AgeID to find out how it will work (and what you'll actually see when you try to log in). James Clark, AgeID spokesperson,
When a user first visits a site protected by AgeID, a landing page will appear with a prompt for the user to verify their age before they can access the site.
First, a user can register an
AgeID account using an email address and password. The user verifies their email address and then chooses an age verification option from our list of 3rd party providers, using options such as Mobile SMS, Credit Card, Passport, or Driving Licence.
The second option is to purchase a PortesCard or voucher from a retail outlet. Using this method, a customer does not need to register an email address, and can simply access the site using the Portes app.
Thereafter, users will be able to use this username/password combination to log into all porn sites which use the Age ID system.
It is a one-time verification, with a simple single sign-on for future access. If a user verifies on one AgeID protected site, they will not need to perform this verification again on any other site carrying AgeID.
The PortesCard is available to purchase from selected high street retailers and any of the UK's 29,000 PayPoint outlets as a voucher. Once a card or voucher is purchased, its unique validation code must be activated via the Portes app
within 24 hours before expiring.
If a user changes device or uses a fresh browser, they will need to login with the credentials they used to register. If using the same browser/device, the user has a choice as to whether they wish
to login every time, for instance if they are on a shared device (the default option), or instead allow AgeID to log them in automatically, perhaps on a mobile phone or other personal device.
Clark claimed that AgeID's system does not
store details of people's ID, nor does it store their browsing history. This sounds a little unconvincing and must be taken on trust. And this statement rather seems to be contradicted by a previous line noting that user's email will be verified, so that
piece of identity information at least will need to be stored and read.
The Portes App solution seems a little doubtful too. It claims not to log device data and then goes on to explain that the PortesCard needs to be locked to a device, rather
suggesting that it will in fact be using device data. It will be interesting to see what app permissions the app will require when installing. Hopefully it won't ask to read your contact list.
This AgeID statement rather leaves the AVSecure card
idea in the cold. The AVSecure system of proving your age anonymously at a shop, and then obtaining a password for use on porn websites seems to be the most genuinely anonymous idea suggested so far, but it will be pretty useless if it can't be used on
the main porn websites.
The world's biggest internet companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter are represented by a trade group call The Internet Association. This organisation has written to UK government ministers to outline how they believe harmful online activity
should be regulated.
The letter has been sent to the culture, health and home secretaries. The letter will be seen as a pre-emptive move in the coming negotiation over new rules to govern the internet. The government is due to publish a delayed White
Paper on online harms in the coming weeks.
The letter outlines six principles:
"Be targeted at specific harms, using a risk-based approach
"Provide flexibility to adapt to changing technologies, different services and evolving societal expectations
"Maintain the intermediary liability
protections that enable the internet to deliver significant benefits for consumers, society and the economy
"Be technically possible to implement in practice
"Provide clarity and certainty for consumers, citizens and internet
"Recognise the distinction between public and private communication"
Many leading figures in the UK technology sector fear a lack of expertise in government, and hardening public sentiment against the excesses of the internet, will push the Online Harms paper in a more radical direction.
Three of the key areas
of debate are the definition of online harm, the lack of liability for third-party content, and the difference between public and private communication.
The companies insist that government should recognise the distinction between clearly illegal
content and content which is harmful, but not illegal. If these leading tech companies believe this government definition of harm is too broad, their insistence on a distinction between illegal and harmful content may be superseded by another set of
The companies also defend the principle that platforms such as YouTube permit users to post and share information without fear that those platforms will be held liable for third-party content. Another area which will be of particular
interest to the Home Office is the insistence that care should be taken to avoid regulation encroaching into the surveillance of private communications.
Social media companies face criminal sanctions for failing to protect children from online harms, according to drafts of the Government's White Paper circulating in Whitehall.
Civil servants are proposing a new corporate offence as an option in
the White Paper plans for a tough new censor with the power to force social media firms to take down illegal content and to police legal but harmful material.
They see criminal sanctions as desirable and as an important part of a regulatory
regime, said one source who added that there's a recognition particularly on the Home Office side that this needs to be a regulator with teeth. The main issue they need to satisfy ministers on is extra-territoriality, that is can you apply this to non-UK
companies like Facebook and YouTube? The belief is that you can.
The White Paper, which is due to published mid-March followed by a Summer consultation, is not expected to lay out as definitive a plan as previously thought. A decision on whether
to create a brand new censor or use Ofcom is expected to be left open. A Whitehall source said:
Criminal sanctions are going to be put into the White Paper as an option. We are not necessarily saying we are going to do
it but these are things that are open to us. They will be allied to a system of fines amounting to 4% of global turnover or Euros 20m, whichever is higher.
Government minister Jeremy Wright told the Telegraph this week he was
especially focused on ensuring that technology companies enforce minimum age standards. He also indicated the Government w ould fulfill a manifesto commitment to a levy on social media firms, that could fund the new censorr.
Internet Watch Foundation's (IWF) CEO, Susie Hargreaves OBE, puts forward a voice of reason by urging politicians and policy makers to take a balanced approach to internet regulation which avoids a heavy cost to the victims of child sexual abuse.
IWF has set out its views on internet regulation ahead of the publication of the Government's Online Harms White Paper. It suggests that traditional approaches to regulation cannot apply to the internet and that human rights
should play a big role in any regulatory approach.
The IWF, as part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, supports the Government's ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start a
IWF has a world-leading reputation in identifying and removing child sexual abuse images and videos from the internet. It takes a co-regulatory approach to combating child sexual abuse images and videos by
working in partnership with the internet industry, law enforcement and governments around the world. It offers a suite of tools and services to the online industry to keep their networks safer. In the past 22 years, the internet watchdog has assessed --
with human eyes -- more than 1 million reports.
Ms Hargreaves said:
Tackling criminal child sexual abuse material requires a global multi-stakeholder effort. We'll use our 22 years' experience
in this area to help the government and policy makers to shape a regulatory framework which is sustainable and puts victims at its heart. In order to do this, any regulation in this area should be developed with industry and other key stakeholders rather
than imposed on them.
We recommend an outcomes-based approach where the outcomes are clearly defined and the government should provide clarity over the results it seeks in dealing with any harm. There also needs to be a process to
monitor this and for any results to be transparently communicated.
But, warns Ms Hargreaves, any solutions should be tested with users including understanding impacts on victims: "The UK already leads the world
at tackling online child sexual abuse images and videos but there is definitely more that can be done, particularly in relation to tackling grooming and livestreaming, and of course, regulating harmful content is important.
My worries, however, are about rushing into knee-jerk regulation which creates perverse incentives or unintended consequences to victims and could undo all the successful work accomplished to date. Ultimately, we must avoid a heavy
cost to victims of online sexual abuse.
Index on Censorship welcomes a report by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee into disinformation and fake news that calls for greater transparency on social media companies' decision making processes, on who posts
political advertising and on use of personal data. However, we remain concerned about attempts by government to establish systems that would regulate harmful content online given there remains no agreed definition of harm in this context beyond those
which are already illegal.
Despite a number of reports, including the government's Internet Safety Strategy green paper, that have examined the issue over the past year, none have yet been able to come up with a definition of
harmful content that goes beyond definitions of speech and expression that are already illegal. DCMS recognises this in its report when it quotes the Secretary of State Jeremy Wright discussing the difficulties surrounding the definition. Despite
acknowledging this, the report's authors nevertheless expect technical experts to be able to set out what constitutes harmful content that will be overseen by an independent regulator.
International experience shows that in
practice it is extremely difficult to define harmful content in such a way that would target only bad speech. Last year, for example, activists in Vietnam wrote an open letter to Facebook complaining that Facebook's system of automatically pulling
content if enough people complained could silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam , while Facebook has shut down the livestreams of people in the United States using the platform as a tool to document their experiences of police
Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg said:
It is vital that any new system created for regulating social media protects freedom of expression, rather than introducing new
restrictions on speech by the back door. We already have laws to deal with harassment, incitement to violence, and incitement to hatred. 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.
The select committee report provides the example of Germany as a country that has legislated against harmful
content on tech platforms. However, it fails to mention the German Network Reinforcement Act was legislating on content that was already considered illegal, nor the widespread criticism of the law that included the UN rapporteur on freedom of expression
and groups such as Human Rights Watch. It also cites the fact that one in six of Facebook's moderators now works in Germany as practical evidence that legislation can work. Ginsberg said:
The existence of more
moderators is not evidence that the laws work. Evidence would be if more harmful content had been removed and if lawful speech flourished. Given that there is no effective mechanism for challenging decisions made by operators, it is impossible to tell
how much lawful content is being removed in Germany. But the fact that Russia, Singapore and the Philippines have all cited the German law as a positive example of ways to restrict content online should give us pause.
Index has reported on various examples of the German law being applied incorrectly, including the removal of a tweet of journalist Martin Eimermacher criticising the double standards of tabloid newspaper Bild Zeitung and the blocking of the Twitter
account of German satirical magazine Titanic. The Association of German Journalists (DJV) has said the Twitter move amounted to censorship, adding it had warned of this danger when the German law was drawn up.
Index is also
concerned about the continued calls for tools to distinguish between quality journalism and unreliable sources, most recently in the Cairncross Review . While we recognise that the ability to do this as individuals and through education is key to
democracy, we are worried that a reliance on a labelling system could create false positives, and mean that smaller or newer journalism outfits would find themselves rejected by the system.
It will be an offence to view terrorist material online just once -- and could incur a prison sentence of up to 15 years -- under a new UK law.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill has just been granted Royal Assent, updating a previous Act
and bringing new powers to law enforcement to tackle terrorism.
But a controversial inclusion was to update the offence of obtaining information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism so that it now covers
viewing or streaming content online.
Originally, the proposal had been to make it an offence for someone to view material three or more times -- but the three strikes idea has been dropped from the final Act.
The government said that the
existing laws didn't capture the nuance in changing methods for distribution and consumption of terrorist content -- and so added a new clause into the 2019 Act making it an offence to view (or otherwise access) any terrorist material online. This means
that, technically, anyone who clicked on a link to such material could be caught by the law.
Social media giants will face tough new laws to prevent the spread of knife crime, the Home Secretary threatened -- as he spoke of fears for his own children's safety.
Sajid Javid said it was time for a legal crackdown on social media images promoting
gang culture, in the same way that child sex abuse images and terrorist propaganda have already been outlawed.
In a warning to online firms, he said:
My message to these companies is we are going to legislate
and how far we go depends on what you decide to do now. At the moment we don't have the legislation for these types of [knife crime-related] content.
I have it for terrorist content and child sexual abuse images.
Google is among several firms which have been criticised for hosting content glamorising gang culture. Rappers using its YouTube video platform post so-called drill music videos to boast about the number of people they have stabbed or shot, using
street terms. The platform has taken down dozens of videos by drill artists, after warnings from the Metropolitan Police that they were raising the risk of violence.
Christian Concern writes a long article criticising the relaxation of UK obscenity law and concludes:
We need your help to monitor the mainstreaming of sado-masochism and extreme pornography in British society from now on.
Christians have a unique calling to shed the light of the Gospel on this problem, and to provide a witness to redemption in a society that has completely lost its way regarding sexual ethics.
The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry has delivered its final report, with recommendations on how to safeguard the future sustainability of the UK press.
Online platforms should have a 'news quality obligation' to improve trust in news they host, overseen by a regulator
Government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to
support public interest journalism
A new Institute for Public Interest News should focus on the future of local and regional press and oversee a new innovation fund
The independent review , undertaken by Frances Cairncross, was tasked by the Prime Minister in 2018 with investigating the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism. It comes as significant changes
to technology and consumer behaviour are posing problems for high-quality journalism, both in the UK and globally.
Cairncross was advised by a panel from the local and national press, digital and physical publishers and
advertising. Her recommendations include measures to tackle the uneven balance of power between news publishers and the online platforms that distribute their content, and to address the growing risks to the future provision of public-interest news.
It also concludes that intervention may be needed to improve people's ability to assess the quality of online news, and to measure their engagement with public interest news. The key recommendations are:
New codes of conduct to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms;
The Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the online advertising market to ensure fair
Online platforms' efforts to improve their users' news experience should be placed under regulatory supervision;
Ofcom should explore the market impact of BBC News, and whether its
inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial news providers;
The BBC should do more to help local publishers and think further about how its news provision can act as a complement to commercial news;
A new independent Institute should be created to ensure the future provision of public interest news;
A new Innovation Fund should be launched, aiming to improve the supply of public interest news;
New forms of tax reliefs to encourage payments for online news content and support local and investigative journalism;
Expanding financial support for local news by extending the BBC's Local Democracy
Developing a media literacy strategy alongside Ofcom, industry and stakeholders.
The Government will now consider all of the recommendations in more detail. To inform this, the Culture Secretary will write immediately to the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofcom and the Chair of the Charity Commission to open
discussions about how best to take forward the recommendations which fall within their remits. The Government will respond fully to the report later this year.
DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright said:
A healthy democracy needs high quality journalism to thrive and this report sets out the challenges to putting our news media on a stronger and more sustainable footing, in the face of changing technology and rising disinformation.
There are some things we can take action on immediately while others will need further careful consideration with stakeholders on the best way forward.
A Mediatique report Overview of recent market dynamics in the UK
press, April 2018 commissioned by DCMS as the part of the Cairncross Review found:
Print advertising revenues have dropped by more than two-thirds in the ten years to 2017;
Print circulation of national papers fell from 11.5 million daily copies in 2008 to 5.8 million in 2018 and for
local papers from 63.4 million weekly in 2007 to 31.4 million weekly in 2017;
Sales of both national and local printed papers fell by roughly half between 2007 and 2017, and are still declining;
The number of full-time frontline journalists in the UK has dropped from an estimated 23,000 in 2007, to just 17,000 today, and the numbers are still declining.
A report Online Advertising in the UK by Plum Consulting, commissioned by DCMS as the part of the Cairncross Review (and available as an annex to the Review) found:
UK internet advertising expenditure increased from £3.5 billion in 2008 to £11.5 billion in 2017, a compound annual growth rate of 14%.
Publishers rely on display advertising for their revenue online -
which in the last decade has transformed into a complex, automated system known as programmatic advertising.
An estimated average of £0.62 of every £1 spent on programmatic advertising goes to the publisher - though this can
range from £0.43 to £0.72. *Collectively, Facebook and Google were estimated to have accounted for over half (54%) of all UK online advertising revenues in 2017.
The major online platforms collect multiple first-party
datasets from large numbers of logged-in users. They generally, they do not share data with third-parties, including publishers.
Dame Frances Cairncross is a former economic journalist, author and academic administrator. She is currently Chair of the Court of Heriot-Watt University and a Trustee at the Natural History Museum. Dame Frances was Rector of Exeter
College, Oxford University; a senior editor on The Economist; and principal economic columnist for the Guardian. In 2014 she was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to education. She is the author of a number of books, including "The
Death of Distance: How the Communications Revolution is Changing our Lives" and "Costing the Earth: The Challenge for Governments, the Opportunities for Business". Dame Frances is married to financial journalist Hamish McRae.
The BBC comments on some of the ideas not included in the report's recommendations
report falls short of requiring Facebook, Google and other tech giants to pay for the news they distribute via their platforms. Caurncross told the BBC's media editor Amol Rajan that "draconian and risky" measures could result in firms such as
Google withdrawing their news services altogether.:
There are a number of ways we have suggested technology companies could behave differently and could be made to behave differently. But they are mostly ways that
don't immediately involve legislation."
Frances Cairncross earned widespread respect as a journalist for her hard-headed and pragmatic approach to economics. That pragmatism is the very reason the government commissioned her to
look at the future of high-quality news - and also the reason many in local and regional media will be disappointed by her recommendations.
What is most notable about her review is what it doesn't do.
It doesn't suggest all social media should be regulated in the UK
It doesn't suggest social media companies pay for the privilege of using news content
It doesn't suggest social media companies be treated as publishers, with legal
liability for all that appears on their platform
This is because the practicalities of doing these things are difficult, and experience shows that the likes of Google will simply pull out of markets that don't suit them.
Ultimately, as this report acknowledges, when it comes to news,
convenience is king. The speed, versatility and zero cost of so much news now means that, even if it is of poor quality, a generation of consumers has fallen out of the habit of paying for news. But quality costs. If quality news has a future, consumers
will have to pay. That's the main lesson of this report.
2018 was a pivotal year for data protection. First the Cambridge Analytica scandal put a spotlight on Facebook's questionable privacy practices. Then the new Data Protection Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) forced businesses to
better handle personal data.
As these events continue to develop, 2019 is shaping up to be a similarly consequential year for free speech online as new forms of digital censorship assert themselves in the UK and EU.
Of chief concern in the UK are several initiatives within the Government's grand plan to "make Britain the safest place in the world to be online", known as the Digital Charter. Its founding document proclaims "the same
rights that people have offline must be protected online." That sounds a lot like Open Rights Group's mission! What's not to like?
Well, just as surveillance programmes created in the name of national security proved
detrimental to privacy rights, new Internet regulations targeting "harmful content" risk curtailing free expression.
The Digital Charter's remit is staggeringly broad. It addresses just about every conceivable evil on
the Internet from bullying and hate speech to copyright infringement, child pornography and terrorist propaganda. With so many initiatives developing simultaneously it can be easy to get lost.
To gain clarity, Open Rights Group
published a report surveying the current state of digital censorship in the UK . The report is broken up into two main sections - formal censorship practices like copyright and pornography blocking, and informal censorship practices including ISP
filtering and counter terrorism activity. The report shows how authorities, while often engaging in important work, can be prone to mistakes and unaccountable takedowns that lack independent means of redress.
Over the coming weeks
we'll post a series of excerpts from the report covering the following:
Formal censorship practices
Copyright blocking injunctions
BBFC pornography blocking
BBFC requests to "Ancillary Service Providers"
Informal censorship practices
Nominet domain suspensions
The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU)
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
ISP content filtering
The big picture
Take a step back from the many measures encompassed within the Digital Charter and a clear pattern emerges. When it comes to web blocking, the same rules do not apply online as offline.
Many powers and practices the government employs to remove online content would be deemed unacceptable and arbitrary if they were applied to offline publications.
Part II of our report is in the works and will focus on threats to
free speech within yet another branch of the Digital Charter known as the Internet Safety Strategy.
There is every reason to believe that the government and opposition are moving to a consensus on introducing a duty of care for social media companies to reduce harm and risk to their users. This may be backed by an Internet regulator, who might
decide what kind of mitigating actions are appropriate to address the risks to users on different platforms.
This idea originated from a series of papers by Will Perrin and Lorna Woods and has been mentioned most recently in a
recent Science and Technology committee report and by NGOs including children's charity 5Rights.
A duty of care has some obvious merits: it could be based on objective risks, based on evidence, and ensure that mitigations are
proportionate to those risks. It could take some of the politicisation out of the current debate.
However, it also has obvious problems. For a start, it focuses on risk rather than process . It moves attention away from the fact
that interventions are regulating social media users just as much as platforms. It does not by itself tell us that free expression impacts will be considered, tracked or mitigated.
Furthermore, the lack of focus that a duty of
care model gives to process means that platform decisions that have nothing to do with risky content are not necessarily based on better decisions, independent appeals and so on. Rather, as has happened with German regulation, processes can remain
unaffected when they are outside a duty of care.
In practice, a lot of content which is disturbing or offensive is already banned on online platforms. Much of this would not be in scope under a duty of care but it is precisely
these kinds of material which users often complain about, when it is either not removed when they want it gone, or is removed incorrectly. Any model of social media regulation needs to improve these issues, but a duty of care is unlikely to touch these
There are very many questions about the kinds of risk, whether to individual in general, vulnerable groups, or society at large; and the evidence required to create action. The truth is that a duty of care, if cast
sensibly and narrowly, will not satisfy many of the people who are demanding action; equally, if the threshold to act is low, then it will quickly be seen to be a mechanism for wide-scale Internet censorship.
It is also a simple
fact that many decisions that platforms make about legal content which is not risky are not the business of government to regulate. This includes decisions about what legal content is promoted and why. For this reason, we believe that a better approach
might be to require independent self-regulation of major platforms across all of their content decisions. This requirement could be a legislative one, but the regulator would need to be independent of government and platforms.
Independent self-regulation has not been truly tried. Instead, voluntary agreements have filled its place. We should be cautious about moving straight to government regulation of social media and social media users. The government refuses to regulate the press in this way because it doesn't wish to be seen to be controlling print media. It is pretty curious that neither the media nor the government are spelling out the risks of state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens.
That we are in this place is of course largely the fault of the social media platforms themselves, who have failed to understand the need and value of transparent and accountable systems to ensure they are acting properly. That,
however, just demonstrates the problem: politically weak platforms who have created monopoly positions based on data silos are now being sliced and diced at the policy table for their wider errors. It's imperative that as these government proposals
progress we keep focus on the simple fact that it is end users whose speech will ultimately be regulated.
Wrangling in Whitehall has held up plans to set up a social media censor dubbed Ofweb, The Mail on Sunday reveals.
The Government was due to publish a White Paper this winter on censorship of tech giants but this Mail has learnt it is still far from
ready. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said it would be published within a month, but a Cabinet source said that timeline was wholly unrealistic. Other senior Government sources went further and said the policy document is unlikely to surface before the
Key details on how a new censor would work have yet to be decided while funding from the Treasury has not yet been secured. Another problem is that some Ministers believe the proposed clampdown is too draconian and are preparing to try to
block or water down the plan.
There are also concerns that technically difficult requirements would benefit the largest US companies as smaller European companies and start ups would not be able to afford the technology and development required.
The Mail on Sunday understands Jeremy Wright has postponed a visit to Facebook HQ in California to discuss the measures, as key details are still up in the air.
Update: The Conservatives don't have a monopoly on internet censorship...Labour agrees
Labour has called for a new entity capable of taking on the likes of Facebook and Google. Tom Watson, the shadow digital secretary, will on Wednesday say a regulator should also have responsibility for competition policy and be able to refer cases
to the Competition and Markets Authority.
According to Watson, any duty of care would only be effective with penalties that seriously affect companies' bottom lines. He has referred to regulators' ability to fine companies up to 4% of global
turnover, or euro 20m, whichever is higher, for worst-case breaches of the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation.
The upcoming UK internet porn censorship regime being introduced later this year has set the UK authorities to thinking about a more rational set of laws governing what porn is legal and what porn is illegal in the UK. It makes a lot of sense to get the
UK stall straight before the commencement of the new censorship regime.
The most contradictory area of porn law is that often referred to as 'beyond R18 porn'. This includes material historically banned by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) claiming
obscenity, ie fisting, golden showers, BDSM, female ejaculation, and famously from a recent anti censorship campaign, face sitting/breath play. Such material is currently cut from R18s, as censored and approved by the BBFC.
When the age
verification law first came before parliament, 'beyond R18' porn was set to be banned outright. However as some of these categories are commonplace in worldwide porn, then the BBFC would have had to block practically all the porn websites in the world,
leaving hardly any that stuck to R18 guidelines that would be acceptable for viewing after age verification. So the lawmakers dropped the prohibition, and this 'beyond R18' material will now be acceptable for viewing after age verification. This leaves
the rather clear contradiction that the likes of fisting and female ejaculation would be banned or cut by the BBFC for sale in UK sex shops, but would have to be allowed by the BBFC for viewing online.
This contradiction has now been squared by
the government deciding that 'beyond R18' pornography is now legal for sale in the UK. So the BBFC will now have a unified set of rules, specified by the CPS, covering both the censorship of porn sales in the UK and the blocking of foreign websites.
This legalisation of 'beyond R18' porn will surely disappoint a few censorial politicians in the House of Lords, notably Elspeth Howe. She has already tabled a private members bill to restore the ban on any foreign websites including 'beyond R18'
porn. Her bill has now been rendered mostly irrelevant.
However there is still one genre of pornography that is sticking out of line, and that is cartoon porn featuring under age characters. Such porn is widespread in anime but strictly banned
under UK law. So given the large amounts of Japanese Hentai porn on the most popular tube sites in the world, then those videos could still be an issue for the viability of the age classification regime and could still end up with all the major porn
sites in the world banned.
The new CPS censorship rules
The new rules have already come into force, they started on 28th January 2019.
A CPS spokesperson confirmed the change saying
It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable. We do not propose to bring charges based on material that depicts consensual and legal activity between adults, where no serious harm is caused and the
likely audience is over the age of 18.
The CPS will, however, continue to robustly apply the law to anything which crosses the line into criminal conduct and serious harm.
It seems a little bit rich for the CPS
to claim that It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable, when they have happily been doing exactly that for the last 30 years.
The CPS originally outlined the new rules in a public consultation that
started in July 2018. The key proposals read:
When considering whether the content of an article is “obscene”, prosecutors should distinguish between:
Content showing or realistically depicting criminal conduct (whether non-consensual activity, or consensual activity where serious harm is caused), which is likely to be obscene;
Content showing or realistically depicting other conduct which is lawful,
which is unlikely to be obscene.
Do consultees agree or disagree with the guidance that prosecutors must exercise real caution when dealing with the moral nature of acts not criminalized by law, and that the showing or realistic
depiction of sexual activity / pornography which does not constitute acts or conduct contrary to the criminal law is unlikely to be obscene?
The following conduct (notwithstanding previous guidance indicating
otherwise) will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act:
Activity involving bodily substances (including urine, vomit, blood and faeces)
Infliction of pain / torture
Bondage / restraint
Placing objects into the urethra
Any other sexual activity not prohibited by law
It is consensual;
No serious harm is caused;
It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality; and
The likely audience is not under 18 or otherwise vulnerable.
When considering whether the content of an article is "obscene", prosecutors should distinguish between:
Content relating to criminal conduct (whether non-consensual activity, or consensual activity where serious harm is caused, or otherwise inextricably linked to criminality), which is likely to be obscene;
Content relating to other non-criminal conduct, which is unlikely to be obscene, provided the audience is not young or otherwise vulnerable.
Conduct will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act provided that:
It is consensual (focusing on full and freely exercised consent, and also where the provision of consent is made clear where such consent may not be easily determined from the material itself); and
serious harm is caused (whether physical or other, and applying the guidance above at paragraph 17); and
It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality (so as to encourage emulation or fuelling interest or
normalisation of criminality); and
The likely audience is not under 18 (having particular regard to where measures have been taken to ensure that the audience is not under 18) or otherwise vulnerable (as a result of their
physical or mental health, the circumstances in which they may come to view the material, the circumstances which may cause the subject matter to have a particular impact or resonance or any other relevant circumstance).
Note that extreme pornography is considered illegal so will likely be considered obscene too. But the CPS adds a few additional notes of harmful porn that will continue to be illegal:
show or depict the infliction of serious harm may be considered to be obscene publications because they show criminal assault notwithstanding the consent of the victim. This includes dismemberment and graphic mutilation. It includes asphyxiation causing
unconsciousness, which is more than transient and trifling, and given its danger is serious.
So it seems that breath play will be allowed as long as it doesn't lead to unconsciousness. Another specific rule is that gags do not in
themselves imply a lack of consent:
Non-consent for adults must be distinguished from consent to relinquish control. The presence of a gag or other forms of bondage does not, without more, suffice to confirm that
sexual activity was non-consensual.
The BBFC changes its R18 rules
The BBFC has several roles, it works in an advisory role when classifying cinema films, it works as an independent and mandatory censor when
classifying mainstream videos, but it works directly under government rules when censoring pornographic films. And in this last role, it uses unpublished guidelines based on rules provided by the CPS.
The BBFC has informed BBC News that it will
indeed use the updated CPS guidelines when censoring porn. The BBC explains:
The BBFC's guidelines forbid material judged to be obscene under the current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act.
A spokeswoman told the BBC: Because the Obscene Publications Act does not define what types of
material are likely to be considered obscene, we rely upon guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as to what classes of material they consider likely to be suitable for prosecution.
We are aware that the CPS have
updated their guidance on Obscene Publications today and we have now adjusted our own internal policies to reflect that revised guidance.
Myles Jackman And Pandora Blake
And a thank you to two of the leading
campaigners calling for the CPS to lighten up on its censorship rules.
Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, who has campaigned for these changes for a number of years, told Yahoo News UK that the change had wider
implications for the law. He said:
"It is a very impressive that they've introduced the idea of full and freely exercised consent in the law.
"Even for people with no interest in
pornography this is very important for consent and bodily autonomy."
Activist and queer porn filmmaker Pandora Blake, who also campaigned to have the ban on the depiction of certain sex acts overturned, called
the news a 'welcome improvement'. They said:
"This is a happy day for queer, feminist and fetish porn."
Acts that were banned that can now be depicted include:
The U.K. government is rushing to finalize a draft internet censorship law particularly targeting social media but key details of the proposal have yet to be finalised amid concerns about stifling innovation.
Government officials have been meeting
with industry players, MPs, peers and other groups over the past month as they try to finalise their proposals.
People involved in those discussions said there is now broad agreement about the need to impose a new duty of care on big tech
companies, as well as the need to back up their terms and conditions with the force of law.
A white paper is due be published by the end of winter. But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is partly responsible for writing
up the new rules alongside the Home Office, is still deliberating over key aspects with just weeks to go until the government said it would unveil an outline of its proposals.
Among the sticking points are worries that regulation could stifle
innovation in one of the U.K. economy's most thriving sectors and concerns over whether it can keep pace with rapid technological change. Another is ensuring sufficient political support to pass the law despite likely opposition from parts of the
Conservative Party. A third is deciding what regulatory agency would ultimately be responsible for enforcing the so-called Internet Safety Law.
A major unresolved question is what censorship body will be in charge of enforcing laws that could
expose big tech companies to greater liability for hosted content, a prospect that firms including Google and Facebook have fought at the European level.
Several people who spoke to POLITICO said the government does not appear to have settled on
who would be the censor, although the communications regulator Ofcom is very much in the mix, however there are concerns that Ofcom is already getting too big.
InternetMatters.org is group funded by UK internet and telecoms companies with the aim of promoting their role in internet safety.
The group has now published a survey supporting the government's upcoming introduction of age verification requirements
for porn websites. The results reveal:
83% feel that commercial porn sites should demand users verify their age before they're able to access content.
76% of UK parents feel there should be greater restrictions online to stop kids seeing adult content.
69% of parents of
children aged four to 16 say they're confident the government's new ID restrictions will make a difference.
However 17% disagreed with commercial porn sites requiring ID from their users. And the use of data was the biggest obstacle for those parents opposed to the plans. Of those parents who are anti-age verification, 30% said they wouldn't trust
age-verification companies with their personal data.
While 18% of parents claim they expect kids would find a way to get around age-verification and a further 13% claim they're unsure that it would actually reduce the number of children accessing
pornography. Age-verification supported by experts
gaystarnews.com has published an article outlining the dangers of porn viewers
submitting their identity data and browsing history to age verifiers and their websites. The article explains that the dangers for gay porn viewers are even mor pronounced that for straight viewers. The artisle illustrates this with an example:
David Bridle, the publisher of Dirty Boyz , announced in October that last month's issue of the magazine would be its last. He said:
Following the Conservative government's
decision ... to press ahead with new regulations forcing websites which make money from adult content to carry an age verification system ... Dirtyboyz and its website dirtyboyz.xxx have made the decision to close.
The new age
verification system will be mostly run by large adult content companies which themselves host major "Tube" style porn sites. 'It would force online readers of Dirtyboyz to publicly declare themselves.
Open Rights Group executive director, Jim Killock, told GSN the privacy of users needs protecting:
The issue with age verification systems is that they need to know it's you. This means there's a strong likelihood that it will basically track you and know what you're watching. And that's data that could be very
harmful to people.
It could cause issues in relationships. Or it could see children outed to their parents. It could mean people are subjected to scams and blackmail if that data falls into criminal hands. Government response
A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told Gay Star News:
Pornographic websites and age verification services will be subject to the UK's existing high
standard of data protection legislation. The Data Protection Act 2018 provides a comprehensive and modern framework for data protection, with strong sanctions for malpractice and enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office.
this is bollox, the likes of Facebook and Google are allowed to sell browsing data for eg targeted advertising within the remit of GDPR. And targeted advertising could be enough in itself to out porn viewers.
UK-based porn viewers seem to be filling their boots before the government's age check kicks in as traffic to xHamster rose 6% in 2018
According to xHamster's Alex Hawkins, the trend is typical of countries in which plans to block online pornography
becomes national news. It seems the more you talk about it, the more people feel invested in it as a right, he said.
The government has promised a minimum of three months for industry and the public to prepare for age verification, meaning they
are likely to come into force around Easter. However this is a little unfair to websites as the BBFC has not yet established the process by which age verification services will be kitemarked and approved as promising to keep porn viewers identity and/or
browsing history acceptably safe. For the moment websites do not know which services will be deemed acceptable.
Countries that have restrictions already in place showed, unsurprisingly, a decline in visitors. Traffic from China fell 81% this year,
which xHamster put down to the nation's ban on VPNs and $80,000 cash rewards for people who shopped sites hosting illegal content, like porn.
Elsewhere, the report showed an increase in the number of female visitors to the site -- up 42% in the US
and 12.3% worldwide -- a trend Hawkins predicted would continue into 2019.
The government has published Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations 2019 which defines which websites get caught up in upcoming internet porn censorship requirements and how social media websites are excused from the censorship.
laws will come into force on the day that subsection (1) of section 14 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 comes fully into force. This is the section that introduces porn censorship and age verification requirements. This date has not yet been announced but
the government has promised to give at least 3 months notice.
So now websites which are more than one-third pornographic content or else those that promote themselves as pornographic will be obliged to verify the age of UK visitors under. However
the law does not provide any specific protection for porn viewers' data beyond the GDPR requirements to obtain nominal consent before using the data obtained for any purpose the websites may desire.
The BBFC and ICO will initiate a voluntary
kitemark scheme so that porn websites and age verification providers can be audited as holding porn browsing data and identity details responsibly. This scheme has not yet produced any audited providers so it seems a little unfair to demand that websites
choose age verification technology before service providers are checked out.
It all seems extraordinarily dangerous for porn users to submit their identity to adult websites or age verification providers without any protection under law. The BBFC
has offered worthless calls for these companies to handle data responsibly, but so many of the world's major website companies have proven themselves to be untrustworthy, and hackers, spammers, scammers, blackmailers and identity thieves are hardly
likely to take note of the BBFC's fine words eg suggesting 'best practice' when implementing age verification.
Neil Brown, the MD of law firm decoded.legal told Sky News:
It is not clear how this age
verification will be done, and whether it can be done without also have to prove identity, and there are concerns about the lack of specific privacy and security safeguards.
Even though this legislation has received quite a lot of
attention, I doubt most internet users will be aware of what looks like an imminent requirement to obtain a 'porn licence' before watching pornography online.
The government's own impact assessment recognises that it is not
guaranteed to succeed, and I suspect we will see an increase in advertising from providers in the near future.
It would seem particularly stupid to open one up to the dangers of have browsing and identity tracked, so surely it is time
to get oneself protected with a VPN, which enables one to continue accessing porn without having to hand over identity details.
Kirsty Brimelow QC is the new chairwoman of the independent appeals panel for the age verification regime of the British Board of Film Classification. The panel will oversee attempts to prevent children gaining access to adult content online. The
initial term is for 3 years in the post
Parliament's Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) has reported that the government's approach to internet porn censorship and age verification is fit for purpose, but asks a few important questions about how safe it is for porn viewers.
was originally set up a decade ago to help cut red tape by independently checking government estimates of how much complying with new laws and regulations would cost the private sector. Of curse all it has achieved is to watch the western world suffocate
itself in accelerating red tape to such a point that the west seems to be on a permanent course to diminishing wealth and popular unrest. One has to ask if the committee itself is fit for purpose?
Anyway in the subject of endangering porn
users by setting them up for identity thieves, blackmailers and scammers, the authors write:
Risks and wider impacts. The Impact Assessment (IA) makes only limited reference to risks and wider impacts of the measure.
These include the risk that adults and children may be pushed towards the dark web or related systems to avoid AV, where they could be exposed to illegal activities and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with. The IA
also recognises numerous other wider impacts, including privacy/fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps.
Given the potential severity of such risks and wider impacts, the RPC believes that a more thorough
consideration of each, and of the potential means to mitigate them, would have been appropriate. The RPC therefore recommends that the Department ensures that it robustly monitors these risks and wider impacts, post-implementation.