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UK Parliament Watch

2014: April-June

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Update: Social media and the law on insults, trolling and harassment...

Lords committee to inquire as to whether vague internet insult laws are clear enough

Link Here 27th June 2014
Full story: Insulting UK Law...UK proesecutions of jokes and insults on social media
A House of Lords Communications Committee, chaired by Lord Best, will conduct a short inquiry into the legal and regulatory framework around social media and communications offences, such as one-to-one targeted harassment and trolling .

It is a problem that is in the news on a regular basis, and yet many people do not seem to realise that communications sent via social media are capable of amounting to criminal offences under a range of statutes. These include the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, and the Communications Act 2003.

The Committee will be holding two evidence sessions, which will look at whether the legislation on the issue of social media and communications offences is appropriate and fit for purpose or would benefit from clarification; whether the line between free speech and protection of victims is clear; and more generally, whether the steps which have already been taken to deal with these problems are sufficient, or whether further action is necessary.

On a wider note, the Committee sees this piece of work as an integral part of pursuing its interest in the way changes in media and technology are likely to affect consumers' and citizens' behaviour and the way in which the legal and policy debate needs to respond. Questions

Questions likely to be raised in this inquiry include:

  • Whether the law currently covering offences related to social media and communications offences is capable of adapting to the way in which people behave, given the speed of changes in technology.
  • If there are areas of overlap or gaps in the range of legislation covering social media and communications offences, which means that categorising the offence is not always clear.
  • Whether the sentences handed out for social media and communications offences are known, consistent and appropriate and, more generally, whether other approaches, such as restorative justice and education, might be more effective.
  • How, in responding to these issues, reform to the current package of legislation can strike an effective balance between victim protection and freedom of expression.



When politicians corrupt human rights to suit their own moralist whims...

Parliament's 'human rights' committee sees the extension of extreme porn prohibition as somehow enhancing human rights

Link Here 12th June 2014
In a Report published today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights welcomes the provision in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, carried over from the last Session of this Parliament, which extends the current offence of possession of extreme pornography to include possession of pornographic images depicting rape and other non-consensual sexual penetration. The Committee considers this provision to be human rights enhancing, given the evidence of cultural harm done by such pornography, and acknowledges the strong justification provided by the Government and others for this proportionate restriction on individual rights.



Update: Lords of Chaos...

Elspeth Howe re-introduces her bill to seize up the internet by requiring onerous age verification to access sites with 18 rated content

Link Here12th June 2014
Full story: Online Safety Bill...Elspeth Howe proposes onerous website age verification
Online Safety Bill [HL]

As introduced in the House of Lords on 10th June 2014 [HL Bill 16]


1. The objective of this Bill is to reduce the ability for children and young people to access inappropriate material online and through video on-demand.

2. Part 1 of the Bill takes a three pronged approach to extending online safety measures:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone operators (MPOs) would by default provide an Internet service without access to adult content, with adult subscribers able to opt-in to receive such material;
  • Electronic device manufacturers would provide a means of filtering Internet content at the time of purchase; and
  • ISPs/MPOs would make available information about online safety and schools would educate parents about online safety.

3. Part 2 of the Bill addresses the protections for on-demand programme services:

  • Within the UK, requiring access controls for programmes that are equivalent to an "18" rating or greater; and
  • In relation to soft and hard-core pornography provided from websites based overseas, providing the Authority for Television on Demand ATVOD the power to direct credit card companies to cease transactions if the services are not provided with suitable age verification.

Clause 1: Duty to provide a service that excludes adult content

4. Subsection (1) requires all ISPs to provide an Internet service that excludes adult content, unless a subscriber opts-in and meets the criteria set out in subsection (3). The Bill aims to block "adult content" at the network level -- that is the material coming into a home or to a phone unless a subscriber specifically unblocks that content.

5 . Subsection (2) requires all MPOs who provide an Internet service as part of their telephone service to exclude adult content from that service, unless a subscriber opts in and meets the criteria set out in subsection (3). It would standardise the way MPOs deal with customers accessing adult content.

6.Adult content is defined in clause 6 as containing "harmful and offensive material from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected" where:

  • "harmful and offensive materials" has the same meaning as in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003;
  • "material from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected" means material specified in the Ofcom standards under section 319(2)(a) of the Communications Act 2003.

7. Subsection (3) sets out the three conditions whereby a subscriber may receive adult content as part of their Internet service. They must "opt-in" to receive adult content, be 18 or over; and have their age verified by the service provider's age verification scheme, which meets the standards set in section 2 on age verification schemes before a subscriber can access adult content. "Opts-in" is defined in subsection (5) .

8. Subsection (4) prevents ISPs and MPOs from being sued should material be accessible or not accessible on the basis of actions taken to comply with section 1, as long as they were following the standards and code set out in clause 2 and acting in good faith.

9. Subsection (6) makes clear that the ISPs can implement additional filtering levels on top of the requirement to offer an internet service without adult content.

Clause 2: Role of Ofcom

10. Clause 2 gives Ofcom a new responsibility to set standards in this area of media consumption. Subsection (1) requires Ofcom to set standards on filtering of adult content and age verification schemes and any other filtering schemes that are operated by ISPs or MPOs. The standards should be reviewed and revised from time to time.

11. Subsection (2) requires the standards set under subsection (1) to be set out in one or more codes of practice.

12. Subsection (3) requires a draft code of standards to be published.

13. Subsection (4) requires there to be a consultation on the draft code with relevant people/organisations.

14. Subsection (5) requires Ofcom to establish a process for handling and resolution of complaints regarding the standards in this section.

15. Subsection (6) requires Ofcom to prepare a report to the Secretary of State about the operation of this Act every three years and at the direction of the Secretary of State.

16. Subsection (7) allows Ofcom to delegate the functions in this section to another corporate body either in whole or in part.

17. Subsection (8) sets out brief criteria for who can be a designated body.

Clause 3 : Duty to provide a means of filtering content

18. Clause 3 requires manufacturers of electronic devices that are capable of internet access to provide a means of filtering content at the time of purchase at an age appropriate level, so that parents are able to choose which material they wish to exclude.

19. The requirement does not anticipate on-going support from the manufacturer after purchase, nor does it set out how the filtering must take place: each type of device can be different.

Clause 4 : Duty to provide information about online safety

20. Clause 4 requires ISPs and MPOs to provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information about online safety to customers at the time of the purchase of a service and to make such information available for the duration of the service, e.g. it could contain information for parents about safe use of social networking sites.

Clause 5: Duty to educate parents about online safety

21. Clause 5 sets out a duty of the Secretary of State for Education to provide means of educating parents of children under the age of 18 about three areas:

a. the opt-in arrangements under section 1 to ensure that children do not access adult content ( paragraph a );

b. other options for online safety for electronic devices, such as filters ( paragraph b ) ;

c. protecting child from other online behaviours that could be a safety risk, such as bullying and sexual grooming (paragraph c).

Clause 6: Interpretation of Part 1

22. Clause 6 sets out the interpretation of phrases in Part 1 the Bill.

Clause 7 : Age verification scheme

23. Clause 7 amends section 368E(2) of the Communications Act 2003, as introduced by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 , implementing the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2009. Section 368E(2) currently says that an on-demand programme service that contains any material which might "seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of a child" must be made available so that a child will not see or hear it.

24. This clause extends this provision in two ways:

a. stating that the system of access controls must include an age verification scheme; and

b. requiring the access controls to apply to an on-demand programme service which contains harmful and offensive material from which persons under the age of eighteen are to be protected, i.e. to material equivalent to "18" category material.

Clause 8 : Prevention of payments

25. Clause 8 introduces a new power into the Communication Act 2003 to allow the appropriate regulatory authority (in this case ATVOD, The Authority for Television on Demand) to direct a financial institution to prevent payments to a body which does not prevent access to material that comes under section 368(2) of the Communications Act 2003. The model is based on how the law deals with terrorist financing and money laundering in Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. It allows ATVOD to give a direction regardless of where the company is operating.

Clause 9 : Extent , commencement and short title

26. Clause 9 sets out that the Act will come into force six months after Royal Assent and apply across the UK, in the same way as the Communications Act 2003 and the Digital Economy Act 2010. The Act would extend to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.



Comment: Britannia Rules the Internet Waves...

Labour's Helen Goodman proposes a licensing scheme for foreign porn sites

Link Here22nd May 2014
Full story: David Cameron's Internet Porn Ban...Attempting to ban everything on the internet
Labour's Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, has tabled a number of amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill which will be debated by MPs in Parliament on Monday, May 12. Goodman said:

Goodman's amendment proposes that foreign porn submit themselves to a UK licensing scheme complete with criminal sanctions if they don't.

I haven't spotted anything coming of Goodman's proposals so far.

Comment: Authoritarian bullshit

22nd May 2014. From Alan

The mind boggles!

How does this idiot hope to enforce this nasty piece of authoritarian bullshit? I bet the pornmakers of California are wetting themselves with fear that they are committing a criminal offence in England. The only potential victims are British people who run a porn site but have the good sense to host it in a sane and rational country.

And isn't it time somebody stood up for younger consumers of pornography? I bought my first mucky magazine when I was about fourteen. I wouldn't have thanked some daft old besom who said I couldn't buy it until I was eighteen. Half a century on, I would hope that the modern lad (or girl) is capable of evading parents and parliamentarians to get hold of a bit of smut



Updated: Oversight of Orwellian Mass Surveillance...

Parliamentary home affairs committee criticises ineffective oversight of the UK's security services

Link Here14th May 2014
Full story: The Edward Snowden Revelations...Internet Snooping in the US revealed
A highly critical report by the Commons home affairs select committee published on Friday calls for a radical reform of the current system of oversight of MI5 , MI6 and GCHQ , arguing that the current system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself.

The MPs say the current system was designed in a pre-internet age when a person's word was accepted without question. Committee chairman, Keith Vaz said:

It is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley, not the 21st-century reality of the security and intelligence services. The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny. It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in parliament.

The cross-party report is the first British parliamentary acknowledgement that Snowden's disclosures of the mass harvesting of personal phone and internet data need to lead to serious improvements in the oversight and accountability of the security services.

Malcolm Rifkind the Tory chairman of parliament's intelligence and security committee that is supposed to be monitoring the security services attacked Snowden and his supporters for their insidious use of language such as mass surveillance and Orwellian.

Update: Privacy International file complaint against GCHQ

14th May 2014. See  article from

Privacy campaigners are seeking to stop GCHQ using unlawful hacking to help its surveillance efforts. Privacy International said the UK intelligence service has infected millions of devices to spy on citizens and scoop up personal data.

A 30-page legal complaint has been filed with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal which monitors whether the UK's spying laws are being observed.

In a statement , the Privacy International pressure group said the documents released by Edward Snowden had detailed the many ways that GCHQ was spying on people, many of which violated the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees a right to privacy and to freedom of expression.



What's the fair price for a back-up copy?...

Copyright lobby tries to kill parliamentary law changes to allow private copying

Link Here13th May 2014

For well over ten years the Open Rights Group has been arguing about a private copying exception, to legalise everyday consumer behaviour of copying music to computer disks. Despite the fact that copyright industry groups have always said they'd never sue anyone, they claim that an exception would cause substantial damage that requires compensation.

Right now, both the private copying exception and parody appear to be delayed. The draft Statutory Instruments are now being discussed by a joint committee and the government in a rather opaque process.

The argument from publisher lobby groups is that European law requires compensation for economic harm arising from copyright exceptions. The UK government has so far, reasonably, argued that any harm would be minimal. Negligible might be more accurate. The change to the law would have little impact on people's behaviour. It would merely legalise what many people already do, copy the music they have legally bought from one device to another.

So what would the damage be? How many people will stop buying second copies of music if an exception is introduced? Probably nearly nobody, we imagine.

To put it another way, how much should you have to pay for a private copy of your own music and films? The BPI says that a private copying exception fair compensation must be granted to rights holders . UK Music says that the exception cannot lawfully be made without fair compensation .



Obituary Margo MacDonald...

Scottish politician who stood up for the rights of sex workers dies aged 70

Link Here5th April 2014
A flood of tributes from across the political and public spectrum have been paid to the Scottish politician Margo MacDonald, who died on Friday aged 70 after a long, public struggle with Parkinson's disease.

From the moment she burst on to the scene with the SNP in the 70s to her bitter bust-up with the party and reinvention as a popular independent politician, she never relinquished her role as a political firebrand and maverick operator.

Serious yet charismatic, Ms MacDonald was hugely influential within the Scottish independence movement for more than 40 years.

She was also known for high-profile campaigns, from protecting female sex workers to legalising assisted suicide for the terminally ill - an issue which took on a deeply personal significance.

In fact she also stood up for workers in other adult industries, notably lap dancing.

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