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2020: April-June

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Hated law...

Commission for Countering Extremism launches a legal review to examine effectiveness of existing legislation relevant to hateful extremism


Link Here11th June 2020
Full story: Glorification of Censorship...Climate of fear caused by glorification of terrorsim

Lead Commissioner Sara Khan has appointed former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations of the Metropolitan Police Service, Mark Rowley, to lead the review.

The Commission's flagship report 'Challenging Hateful Extremism' identified and evidenced a new category of extremist activity in our country, described as behaviours:

  • that can incite and amplify hate, or engage in persistent hatred, or equivocate about and make the moral case for violence

  • that draw on hateful, hostile or supremacist beliefs directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to the wellbeing, survival or success of an in-group

  • that cause, or are likely to cause, harm to individuals, communities or wider society

The Commission gathered extensive evidence from across England and Wales, commissioned 19 academic papers and launched the first ever public consultation on extremism. Sara Khan visited 20 towns and cities and spoke to experts, activists and critics alike. Victims repeatedly told the CCE that they felt let down by the authorities and are concerned that existing powers are not being used effectively or consistently. For this reason, the report included a commitment by the Commission to undertake a review of law relevant to hateful extremism.

Mark Rowley will conduct the operational review and engage with law enforcement experts to:

  • Identify whether there are gaps in existing legislation or inconsistencies in enforcing the law in relation to hateful extremism and

  • Make practical recommendations that are compatible with existing legal and human rights obligations.

The Commission will engage with stakeholder groups, operational and law enforcement bodies in the coming months, and put proposals forward to the Home Secretary later this year.

 

 

A Tale of Two Committees...

Another excellent blog post analysing current thinking as the government defines internet censorship to be introduced in the Online Harms Bill. By Graham Smith


Link Here26th May 2020
Full story: Online Harms White Paper...UK Government seeks to censor social media

 

 

 

Offsite Article: It looks like the UK's data regulator has given up, blaming coronavirus...


Link Here 19th May 2020
Information Commissioner's Office has effectively downed tools as a result of the pandemic, raising concerns about outstanding cases and ongoing privacy issues

See article from wired.co.uk

 

 

Harmful censorship...

Ministers report on the timetable for the Online Harms internet censorship bill


Link Here14th May 2020
Full story: Online Harms White Paper...UK Government seeks to censor social media
The DCMS minister for censorship, Caroline Dinenage and the Home Office minister in the House of Lords, Susan Williams were quizzed by Parliament's home affairs committee on the progress of the Online Harms Bill.

Caroline Dinenage in particular gave the impression that the massive scope of the bill includes several issues that have not yet been fully thought through. The government does not yet seem able to provide a finalised timetable.

Dinenage told the home affairs committee that she could not commit to introducing the new laws in Parliament in the current session. She said it was an aspiration or intention rather than a commitment as pledged by her predecessor.

She said the government's final consultation response outlining its plans would not be published until probably in the Autumn, more than 18 months after the White Paper in 2019 and more than two and a half years since the green paper.

Julian Knight, Conservative chair of the culture committee, said:

If you don't do it it 2021, then it would have to go through the whole process and it could be 2023 before it is on the statute book with implementation in 2024. Given we have been working on this through the last Parliament, that is not good enough.

The disinformation online about coronavirus underlines why we need this legislation. Unless we can get the architecture in place, we will see further instances of serious erosion of public trust and even damage to the fabric of society.

Dinenage disclosed that the new internet censor, probably Ofcom, would initially be paid for by the taxpayer before shifting all funding to the tech industry.

 

 

Distanced from civil liberties...

Big Brother Watch publishes report about the UK emergency powers used for the coronavirus lockdown


Link Here28th April 2020
Full story: Coronavirus...Internet censorship and surveillance

Big Brother Watch review reveals staggering incompetence in use of emergency powers and demands lockdown exit strategy

The civil liberties group's review of coronavirus emergency powers one month after they came into force finds:

  • a new case of a teen wrongly convicted under Coronavirus Act and under powers for wrong country

  • a " postcode lottery of pandemic law " as forces deliver "inconsistent, heavy-handed and sometimes incompetent" policing

  • suspension of freedom of information relating to coronavirus policing

  • new curbs on free speech online

  • growing use of drones, ANPR, location tracking and warns of "a surveillance state in the UK of a scale never seen before"

An Oxford teenager who delivered money to his vulnerable mother was "wrongly convicted" under the emergency Coronavirus Act and under its Welsh provisions, according to civil liberties group Big Brother Watch. The group said it shows "staggering incompetence".

The case emerged in a Big Brother Watch review of the use of emergency powers a month after they came into force. The organisation protested that the Government's exit strategy from extreme restrictions is a "state secret" and urged for it to be made public.

The damning review, published today, identifies " an outbreak of inconsistent, heavy-handed and sometimes incompetent policing" including wrongful convictions, people being forced from their own gardens and driveways, and major discrepancies between forces in the number of penalty notices issued. Police " cannot maintain trust by swinging from public apology to public apology," the campaign group warned.

Zero tolerance

Thames Valley Police, which arrested the Oxford teenager before he was prosecuted under the Welsh emergency powers, ranked second among English police forces for issuing the most lockdown fines in the first 2.5 weeks, totalling 219.

Big Brother Watch's analysis shows that Lancashire Police issued vastly more lockdown fines than any other force in England at 380 which, proportional to population size, is 3.5 times as many as Thames Valley Police and 116 times more than Humberside Police, which issued the fewest fines at just 2.

Lancashire Police threatened on social media that its officers would take "a zero tolerance approach with those who ignore government guidance" days before the lockdown powers came into force.

Postcode lottery of pandemic law

The civil liberties group raised concerns of "senior police figures systematically rejecting legal advice" after several police forces appeared to oppose new guidance clarifying that people are allowed to drive a reasonable distance to exercise.

Dorset Police responded to the guidance with a statement claiming that allowing people to drive to exercise is "not within the spirit of what we are trying to achieve (...) regardless of whether it is 'lawful' or not." Big Brother Watch described the inconsistent policing it identified as creating a "postcode lottery of pandemic law".

Surveillance state

The use of ANPR, drone surveillance, mobile data tracking and citizen reporting could be normalised, the report warns, and result in " a surveillance state in the UK on a scale never seen before."

Concerns have been exacerbated by the "suspension" of freedom of information requests on coronavirus policing. Big Brother Watch uncovered a police strategy document which instructs forces to centralise and delay all freedom of information requests for transparency on policing of emergency powers until summer 2021.

 

 

The NHSX surveillance and contact tracing app...

Do app privacy settings achieve privacy when the state's surveillance system is watching all the internet interactions?


Link Here28th April 2020
Full story: Coronavirus...Internet censorship and surveillance
NHSX, the digital arm of the NHS has been speaking to a parliamentary committee of its upcoming app to be used in the testing, tracking and contact tracing phase of dealing with coronavirus pandemic.

Apple and Google have developed their own contact tracing tools for apps that maximise privacy by keeping most of the key contacts detected via Bluetooth on people's phones. But it was a notable decision that was outlined today that the NHSX tracking app will not be using the Google/Apple system, and will instead be logging contact details with a central server.

However the NHSX app will be using much of the privacy language of the Google/Apple system coupled with the same anonymised contact data handling. Furthermore NHSX said it would be releasing the app code for public scrutiny to assure users that their data will be kept private.

But another key detail revealed was that NHSX was working with GCHQ to help out with security aspects of the app. One has to wonder if the purported privacy of the app is a bit of smokescreen when the GCHQ internet surveillance infrastructure can detect messages being sent to the central server.  The system will know the phone number doing the sending coupled with a pretty good estimate of the location.

But of course this more complete set of data will be extremely useful in combating the virus as it may give an indication of exactly where the virus is being transmitted.

It might be related information that the Big Brother Watch review of the emergency coronavirus legislation reveals that the government has written itself new powers to appoint a new set of people to oversee state internet surveillance. The report says:

On 26th March 2020, a new statutory instrument was made under the Coronavirus Act: The Investigatory Powers (Temporary Judicial Commissioners and Modification of Time Limits) Regulations 2020. This allows for the appointment of temporary Judicial Commissioners to approve authorities' use of investigatory powers including highly intrusive bulk powers. Subsequently, on 21st April, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner appointed 10 new temporary Judicial Commissioners (JCs).205

Presumably these new appointees will be compliant with changes required for the more extensive extraction of data from the tracking app.

If it sorts out the virus and lets the economy bounce back then maybe the ends justifies the means.

 

 

Updated: The Evil of 5G Technology...

Ofcom censures David Icke interview in which he waves his hands to explain 5G conspiracy theories


Link Here20th April 2020
The UK TV censor is looking into a TV network's broadcast of an interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke about supposed links between 5G transmitters and coronavirus.

Ofcom said it was assessing this programme as a priority, following London Live's screening of the programme on Wednesday evening. The London Live interview appeared in part on YouTube titled The Evil of 5G Technology.

The conspiracy theory is more about the dangers of 5G than coronavirus. It is based on noting that 5G uses the high frequency end of the radio wave spectrum which is up there with microwaves, which when transmitted at high power, can indeed sizzle your sausage.

It is hard to believe that David Icke will have convinced many viewers about these theories as Icke doesn't seem to be very knowledgeable about the claims. He is just passing on a Chinese whispers style rumour waving his hands and embellishing it with a few unconvincing analogies.

The coronavirus extension seems to be that the virus is doing most damage in big cities. Rather than the more obvious correlation with high density and multi occupancy housing, the conspiracists are claiming that the correlation is with the recent introduction of 5G.

The government has expressed concern about the programme with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden saying:

I would be expecting Ofcom to take appropriate action. Clearly they are independent but I will be in touch with them to understand what action they are taking in respect to that.

Ofcom has now received 19 complaints about the programme.

 

Update: Why we shouldn't censor Covid conspiracy theories

11th April 2020. See article from spiked-online.com by Tom Slater

David Icke must be free to air his nonsense about 5G.

Update: Ofcom is about as unconvincing as David Icke when censuring London Live without offering any of their own evidence

20th April 2020. See article from ofcom.org.uk . See also Ofcom decision  [pdf] from ofcom.org.uk

Ofcom is a censorial organisation tainted by its frequent censoring programmes on grounds of 'wrong think' based on its own moralising politically correct view of what is 'truth'. So when they censure someone for an opinion, it comes across as an Orwellain rebuke for a 'wrong' opinion. Therefore in cases of scientific truth, Ofcom needs to make a point of actually linking to the science explaining exactly why the conspiracy theory is false. Otherwise, just like in antivaxx, an unevidenced official denial ends up adding credence to the conspiracy.

Ofcom has demanded that London Live broadcasting a statement explaining Ofcom's opinions about the programme. Ofcom writes:

Ofcom has today imposed a sanction on ESTV after an interview with David Icke on its local television channel London Live included potentially harmful content about the coronavirus pandemic.

Our investigation found David Icke expressed views which had the potential to cause significant harm to viewers in London during the pandemic. We were particularly concerned by his comments casting doubt on the motives behind official health advice to protect the public from the virus.

These claims went largely unchallenged during the 80-minute interview and were made without the support of any scientific or other evidence. While we acknowledge that David Icke has a right to hold and express these views, [...BUT...] they risked causing significant harm to viewers who may have been particularly vulnerable at the time of broadcast.

Ofcom stresses that there is no prohibition on broadcasting views which diverge from or challenge official authorities on public health information ...HOWEVER... in broadcasting David Icke's unsubstantiated views without sufficient challenge or context, ESTV failed in its responsibility to ensure that viewers were adequately protected. As a result, we are directing London Live to broadcast a summary of our findings on a date and form to be decided by Ofcom.

We are also now considering whether to impose any further sanction.

Update: Ofcom fails to clear up the myths around 5G and the coronavirus

20th April 2020. See article from telecoms.com

Telecoms industry commentators telecoms.com were also unimpressed by Ofcom's response to 5G conspiracy theories. The group writes:

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has published an announcement that claims to rebut the conspiracy theories regarding 5G and coronavirus, but barely mentions them.

The piece, entitled Clearing up the myths around 5G and the coronavirus, starts promisingly. There is a conspiracy theory that claims 5G is connected to the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), it states. This is wrong. There is no scientific basis or credible evidence for these claims. But then it goes on to note that burning down phone masts can reduce connectivity and then address the persistent does 5G give you cancer? question.

Those two topics are definitely important, but they don't in any way address the mistaken belief that 5G is in some way contributing to the spread of coronavirus. The very simple fact is that physical particles cannot be transmitted over electromagnetic waves. That piece of fundamental education should be front and centre of any fact-checking campaign, and yet Ofcom chose not to mention that at all.

If, for whatever reason, Ofcom was disinclined to consult scientific experts in the preparation of its announcement, it could at least have linked to other sources that put a bit more effort into debunking this silliness.

 

 

On the wrong wavelength...

The government calls in social media companies for a meeting about quashing rumours about a link between coronavirus contagion and 5G


Link Here5th April 2020
The UK culture secretary is to order social media companies to be more aggressive in their response to conspiracy theories linking 5G networks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oliver Dowden plans to hold virtual meetings with representatives from several tech firms next week to discuss the matter. It follows a number of 5G masts apparently being set on fire.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the BBC:

We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online, Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law.

We must also see social media companies acting responsibly and taking much swifter action to stop nonsense spreading on their platforms which encourages such acts.

Several platforms have already taken steps to address the problem but have not banned discussion of the subject outright.

It is not really very clear what the rumours are based upon beyond a correlation between big cities becoming SARS 2 hotspots and big cities being selected for the initial roll out of 5G. But surely denser housing and the larger households found in big cities provides a more compelling reason for big cities being the hotspots. One could ask why western countries seem too being hit hardest when the housing density argument would seem to make mega cities in the developing world more logical centres for the largest contagions, which doesn't seem to be happening so far.

Ofcom's unevidenced refutation

5th April 2020. See article from ofcom.org.uk

Ofcom has imposed a sanction on Uckfield Community Radio Limited after a discussion about the causes and origins of Covid-19 on its community radio station Uckfield FM was found to have breached broadcasting rules. The broadcaster must broadcast a summary of our findings to its listeners.

On 28 February 2020, Uckfield FM broadcast a discussion which contained potentially harmful claims about the coronavirus virus, including unfounded claims that the virus outbreak in Wuhan, China was linked to the roll out of 5G technology. Ofcom's investigation concluded that the broadcaster failed to adequately protect listeners and had breached Rule 2.1 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Given the seriousness of this breach, Ofcom has directed the Licensee to broadcast a statement of Ofcom's findings on a date and in a form to be determined by Ofcom.


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