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UK Parliament Watch


2016: Oct-Dec

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Update: Crap law in the making...

Open Rights Group demolishes government's internet censorship tweak to catch porn carrying Twitter and Reddit


Link Here23rd December 2016

Is the government misleading the Lords about blocking Twitter?

Last week we reported that the UK government expect the BBFC to ask social media providers, such as Twitter, to block the use of their service by accounts that are associated with porn sites that fail to verify the age of their users.

The Bill is even worse than we illustrated. The definition of a "pornographic website" in Clause 15 (2) is purely a site that operates on a "commercial basis". This could catch any site--including Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr--where pornography can be found. The practical limit would therefore purely be down to the discretion of the regulator, the BBFC, as to the kind of commercial sites they wanted to force to use Age Verification. However, the BBFC does not seem to want to require Twitter or Reddit to apply age verification--at least, not yet.

However, we also got one part wrong last week . In relation to Twitter, Reddit and other websites where porn sites might promote their content, the Bill contains a power to notify these "ancillary services" but has no specific power to enforce the notifications .

In other words, they expect Twitter, Google, Facebook, Tumblr and other companies to voluntarily block accounts within the UK, without a specific legal basis for their action .

This would create a toxic situation for these companies. If they fail to "act" on the "notifications", these services will leave themselves open to the accusation that they are failing to protect children, or actively "supplying" pornography to minors.

On the other hand, if they act on these notices, they will rightly be accused by ourselves and those that are censored of acting in an unaccountable, arbitrary manner. They will not have been legally obliged to act by a court; similar content will remain unblocked; and there will be no clear remedy for someone who wished to contest a "notification". Liability for the blocks would remain with the company, rather than the BBFC.

The government has not been clear with the Lords that this highly unclear situation is the likely result of notifications to Twitter--rather than account blocks, as they have suggested.

There are very good reasons not to block accounts after a mere notification. For instance in this case, although sites can contest a classification at the BBFC, and an internal appeals process will exist, there is no external appeal available, other than embarking on an expensive judicial review. It is not clear that a classification as pornography should automatically lead to action by ancillary services, not least because compliance automatically results in the same content being made available. To be clear, the bill does not aim to remove pornography from Twitter, Reddit users or search engines.

Why then, has the government drafted a bill with this power to notify "ancillary services", but no method to enforce? The reason appears to be that payment providers in particular have a long standing agreement amongst themselves that they will halt payments when they are notified that someone is taking payments for unlawful activity. Similarly, large online ad networks have a similar process of accepting notifications.

There is therefore no need to create enforcement mechanisms for these two kinds of "ancillary providers". (There are pitfalls with their approach--it can lead to censorship and unwarranted damage to businesses--but let us leave that debate aside for now.)

It seems clear that, when the bill was written, there was no expectation that "ancillary providers" would include Twitter, Yahoo, or Google, so no enofrcement power was created.

The government, in their haste, has agreed with the BBFC that they should be able to notify Twitter, Google, Yahoo and other platforms. They have agreed that BBFC need not take on a role of enforcement through court orders.

The key point is that the Lords are being misled by the government as things stand. Neither the BBFC or government have explored with Parliamentarians what the consequences of expanding the notion of "ancillary providers" is.

The Lords need to be told that this change means that:

  • the notices are unenforceable against Internet platforms;

  • they will lead to public disputes with the companies;

  • they make BBFC's decisions relating to ancillary providers highly unaccountable as legal responsibility for account blocks rest with the platforms.

It appears that the BBFC do not wish to be cast in the role of "national censor". They believe that their role is one of classification, rather than enforcement. However, the fact that they also wish to directly block websites via ISPs rather flies in the face of their self-perception, as censorship is most clearly what they will be engaging in. Their self-perception is also not a reason to pass the legal buck onto Internet platforms who have no role in deciding whether a site fails to meet regulatory requirements.

This mess is the result of rushing to legislate without understanding the problems involved. The obvious thing to do is to limit the impact of the "ancillary services" approach by narrowing the definition to exclude all but payment providers and ad networks. The alternative--to create enforcement powers against a range of organisations--would need to establish full accountability for the duties imposed on ancillary providers in a court, something that the BBFC seems to wish to avoid.

Or of course, the government could try to roll back its mistaken approach entirely, and give up on censorship as a punishment: that would be the right thing to do. Please sign our petition if you agree .

 

 

Search Engine Optimism...

Labour wants Google to reveal its key to the universe


Link Here19th December 2016
Labour's industrial spokesperson has called for the algorithms used by technology firms to be made transparent and subject to regulation.

Shadow minister Chi Onwurah wants to see greater scrutiny of the algorithms that now control everything from the tailored news served to Facebook users to the order in which websites are presented in Google search. She said:

Algorithms aren't above the law. The outcomes of algorithms are regulated -- the companies which use them have to meet employment law and competition law. The question is, how do we make that regulation effective when we can't see the algorithm?

She added in a letter to the Guardian:

Google and others argue their results are a mirror to society, not their responsibility. Google, Facebook and Uber need to take responsibility for the unintended consequences of the algorithms and machine learning that drive their profits. They can bring huge benefits and great apps, but we need a tech-savvy government to minimise the downside by opening up algorithms to regulation as well as legislating for greater consumer ownership of data and control of the advertising revenue it generates.

Labour's industrial paper, due to be published after the Christmas break, will call for suggestions on how tech firms could be more closely supervised by government.

 

 

Offsite Article: Censor's Charter...


Link Here16th December 2016
Open Rights Group summarises the current state of play revealing how porn sites will be blocked for UK internet users

See article from openrightsgroup.org

 

 

Update: The Censored Digital Economy...

Lords 2nd Reading debate of age verification and censorship for worldwide porn websites


Link Here15th December 2016
The Lords had their first debate on the Digital Economy Bill which includes laws to require age verification as well as extension of out dated police and BBFC censorship rules to the internet.

Lords inevitable queued up to support the age verification requirements. However a couple of the lords made cautionary remarks about the privacy issues of websites being able to build up dangerous database of personal ID information of porn users.

A couple of lords also spoke our against the BBFC/police/government censorship prohibitions being included in the bill. It was noted that these rules are outdated, disproportionate and perhaps requires further debate in another bill.

As an example of these points, the Earl of Erroll (cross bencher) said:

My Lords, I welcome the Bill because it has some very useful stuff in it -- but, like everything else, it might benefit from some tweaking. Many other speakers mentioned the tweaks that need to be made, and if that happens I think that we may end up with quite a good Bill.

I will concentrate on age verification because I have been working on this issue with a group for about a year and three-quarters. We spotted that its profile was going to be raised because so many people were worried about it. We were the first group to bring together the people who run adult content websites -- porn websites -- with those who want to protect children. The interesting thing to come out quite quickly from the meetings was that, believe it or not, the people who run porn sites are not interested in corrupting children because they want to make money. What they want are adult, middle-aged people, with credit cards from whom they can extract money, preferably on a subscription basis or whatever. The stuff that children are getting access to is what are called teaser adverts. They are designed to draw people in to the harder stuff inside, you might say. The providers would be delighted to offer age verification right up front so long as all the others have to comply as well -- otherwise they will get all the traffic. Children use up bandwidth. It costs the providers money and wastes their time, so they are very happy to go along with it. They will even help police it, for the simple reason that it will block the opposition. It is one of the few times I approve of the larger companies getting a competitive advantage in helping to police the smaller sites that try not to comply.

One of the things that became apparent early on was that we will not be able to do anything about foreign sites. They will not answer mail or do anything, so blocking is probably the only thing that will work. We are delighted that the Government has gone for that at this stage. Things need to get blocked fast or sites will get around it. So it is a case of block first, appeal later, and we will need a simple appeals system. I am sure that the BBFC will do a fine job, but we need something just in case.

Another thing that came back from the ISPs is that they want more clarity about what should be blocked, how it will be done and what they will have to do. There also needs to be indemnity. When the ISPs block something for intellectual property and copyright reasons, they are indemnified. They would need to have it for this as well, or there will be a great deal of reluctance, which will cause problems.

The next thing that came up was censorship. The whole point of this is we want to enforce online what is already illegal offline. We are not trying to increase censorship or censor new material. If it illegal offline, it should be illegal online and we should be able to do something about it. This is about children viewing adult material and pornography online. I am afraid this is where I slightly disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. We should decide what should be blocked elsewhere; we should not use the Bill to block other content that adults probably should not be watching either. It is a separate issue. The Bill is about protecting children. The challenge is that the Obscene Publications Act has some definitions and there is ATVOD stuff as well. They are supposed to be involved with time. CPS guidelines are out of step with current case law as a result of one of the quite recent cases -- so there is a bit of a mess that needs clearing up. This is not the Bill to do it. We probably need to address it quite soon and keep the pressure on; that is the next step. But this Bill is about keeping children away from such material.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a very good point about social platforms. They are commercial. There are loopholes that will get exploited. It is probably unrealistic to block the whole of Twitter -- it would make us look like idiots. On the other hand, there are other things we can do. This brings me to the point that other noble Lords made about ancillary service complaints. If we start to make the payment service providers comply and help, they will make it less easy for those sites to make money. They will not be able to do certain things. I do not know what enforcement is possible. All these sites have to sign up to terms and conditions. Big retail websites such as Amazon sell films that would certainly come under this category. They should put an age check in front of the webpage. It is not difficult to do; they could easily comply.

We will probably need an enforcer as well. The BBFC is happy to be a regulator, and I think it is also happy to inform ISPs which sites should be blocked, but other enforcement stuff might need to be done. There is provision for it in the Bill. The Government may need to start looking for an enforcer.

Another point that has come up is about anonymity and privacy, which is paramount. Imagine the fallout if some hacker found a list of senior politicians who had had to go through an age-verification process on one of these websites, which would mean they had accessed them. They could bring down the Government or the Opposition overnight. Noble Lords could all go to the MindGeek website and look at the statistics, where there is a breakdown of which age groups and genders are accessing these websites. I have not dared to do so because it will show I have been to that website, which I am sure would show up somewhere on one of these investigatory powers web searches and could be dangerous.

One of the things the Digital Policy Alliance, which I chair, has done is sponsor a public available specification, which the BSI is behind as well. There is a lot privacy-enforcing stuff in that. It is not totally obvious; it is not finished yet, and it is being highlighted a bit more. One thing we came up with is that websites should not store the identity of the people whom they age-check. In fact, in most cases, they will bounce straight off the website and be sent to someone called an attribute provider, who will check the age. They will probably know who the person is, but they will send back to the website only an encrypted token which says, We've checked this person that you sent to us. Store this token. This person is over 18 -- or under 18, or whatever age they have asked to be confirmed. On their side, they will just keep a record of the token but will not say to which website they have issued it -- they will not store that, either. The link is the token, so if a regulator or social service had to track it down, they could physically take the token from the porn site to where it came from, the attribute provider, and say, Can you check this person's really over 18, because we think someone breached the security? What went wrong with your procedures? They can then reverse it and find out who the person was -- but they could still perhaps not be told by the regulator which site it was. So there should be a security cut-out in there. A lot of work went into this because we all knew the danger.

This is where I agree entirely with the Open Rights Group, which thinks that such a measure should be mandated. Although the publicly available specification, which is almost like a British standard, says that privacy should be mandated under general data protection regulation out of Europe, which we all subscribe to, I am not sure that that is enough. It is a guideline at the end of the day and it depends on how much emphasis the BBFC decides to put on it. I am not sure that we should not just put something in the Bill to mandate that a website cannot keep a person's identity. If the person after they have proved that they are 18 then decides to subscribe to the website freely and to give it credit card details and stuff like that, that is a different problem -- I am not worried about that. That is something else. That should be kept extremely securely and I personally would not give my ID to such a site -- but at the age verification end, it must be private.

There are some other funny things behind the scenes that I have been briefed on, such as the EU VAT reporting requirements under the VAT Mini One Stop Shop, which requires sites to keep some information which might make a person identifiable. That could apply if someone was using one of the attribute providers that uses a credit card to provide that check or if the website itself was doing that. There may be some things that people will have to be careful of. There are some perfectly good age-checking providers out there who can do it without you having to give your details. So it is a good idea; I think that it will help. Let us then worry about the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made so well about what goes where.

The universal service obligation should be territorial; it has to cover the country and not just everyone's homes. With the internet of things coming along -- which I am also involved in because I am chair of the Hypercat Alliance, which is about resource discovery over the internet of things -- one of the big problems is that we are going to need it everywhere: to do traffic monitoring, people flows and all the useful things we need. We cannot have little not-spots, or the Government will not be able to get the information on which to run all sorts of helpful control systems. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, referred to mast sharing. The problem with it is that they then do not put masts in the not-spots; they just keep the money and work off just one mast -- you still get the not-spots. If someone shares a mast, they should be forced a mast somewhere else, which they then share as well.

On broadband take-up, people say, Oh, well, people aren't asking for it . It is chicken and egg: until it is there, you do not know what it is good for. Once it is there and suddenly it is all useful, the applications will flow. We have to look to the future; we have to have some vision. Let us get chicken or the egg out there and the chicken will follow -- I cannot remember which way round it is.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, that the problem with Openreach is that it will always be controlled by its holding company, which takes the investment, redirects it and decides where the money goes. That is the challenge with having it overseeing.

I do not want waste much time, because I know that it is getting late-ish. On jobs, a huge number of jobs were created in earlier days in installing and maintaining internet of things sensors all over the place -- that will change. On the gigabit stuff, it will save travel, energy and all sorts of things -- we might even do remote-control hip operations, so you send the device and the surgeon then does it remotely, once we get super-duper superfast broadband.

I want to say one thing about IP. The Open Rights Group raised having thresholds of seriousness. It is quite important that we do not start prosecuting people on charges with 10-year sentences for trivial things. But it is also sad how interesting documentaries can disappear terribly quickly. The catch-up services cover only a month or so and if you are interested, it is quite nice being able to find these things out there on the internet a year or two later. There should somehow be a publicly available archive for all the people who produce interesting documentaries. I do not know whether they should make a small charge for it, but it should be out there.

The Open Rights Group also highlighted the bulk sharing of data. Some of the stuff will be very useful -- the briefing on free school meals is interesting -- but if you are the only person who really knows what might be leaked, it is very dangerous. If someone were to beat you up, an ordinary register could leak your address across without realising that at that point you are about to go into witness protection. There can be lots of problems with bulk data sharing, so be careful; that is why the insurance database was killed off a few years ago. Apart from that, I thank your Lordships for listening and say that, in general, this is a good effort.?

 

 

Update: Lib Dems to oppose internet censorship...

A rare occurrence these days, politicians that are standing up for the rights of the people


Link Here 29th November 2016
The Liberal Democrats are to oppose plans to censor internet porn sites in the name of 'protecting the children'. Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, said:

Liberal Democrats will do everything possible to ensure that our privacy is not further eroded by this Tory government.

Clamping down on perfectly legal material is something we would expect from the Russian or Chinese governments, not our own. Of course the internet cannot be an ungoverned space, but banning legal material for consenting adults is not the right approach.

The Internet Service Provider Association has also said moves to force providers to block adult sites that do not age verify has the potential to significantly harm the digital economy . ISPA chair James Blessing said:

The Digital Economy Bill is all about ensuing the UK continues to be a digital world leader, including in relation to internet safety. This is why ISPA supported the government's original age verification policy for addressing the problem of underage access of adult sites at source.

Instead of rushing through this significant policy change, we are calling on government to pause and have a substantive discussion on how any legal and regulatory change will impact the UK's dynamic digital economy and the expectations and rights of UK Internet users.

 

 

6 months in prison for wearing somebody else's medal...

Gareth Johnson, Britain awards you the Britisher's Cross, for distinguished ineptitude in legislative service


Link Here 29th November 2016

A ludicrous Private Member's Bill making it offence for people to wear military medals to which they are not entitled has been backed by the government.

The Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill tabled by Conservative MP Gareth Johnson passed its Commons second reading on Friday.

It could create a new criminal offence with a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment or a 5,000 fine.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says he fully supports the proposal.

It is so typical of our disgraceful politicians, to propose extreme punishments for trivial reasons so that they can feel good about some pet peeve of theirs.

James Glancy, a former captain in the Royal Marines who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his service in Afghanistan, told the BBC's Daily Politics the bill goes too far . He commented:

I think it's just going too far to suggest someone could go to prison. I think it's very important to look at what's going on with someone that is actually pretending that they served in the armed forces. There may well be a serious mental health problem and actually that person just has low self-esteem, they're not a threat to the public, and they actually need professional help.

 

 

Offsite Article: What the New British Porn Bill Means for You...


Link Here 27th November 2016
The BBFC is famous for enforcing bizarre notions about what can be depicted in film, based on outdated laws surrounding obscenity

See article from vice.com

 

 

Offsite Video: For those that hold the opinion that Britain is bastion of Western liberal values...


Link Here26th November 2016
Porn Censorship in Britain 2016: The Digital Economy Bill. By the Britisher See video from YouTube

 

 

Update: Snoop On...

The Snooper's Charter has passed the Houses of Parliament


Link Here18th November 2016

The Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) has now been passed by both House of Parliament and is expected to become law within the next few weeks.

Executive Director Jim Killock responded:

The passing of the IP Bill will have an impact that goes beyond the UK's shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.

The IP Bill will put into statute the powers and capabilities revealed by Snowden as well as increasing surveillance by the police and other government departments. There will continue to be a lack of privacy protections for international data sharing arrangements with the US. Parliament has also failed to address the implications of the technical integration of GCHQ and the NSA.

While parliamentarians have failed to limit these powers, the Courts may succeed. A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, expected next year, may mean that parts of the Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended.

ORG and others will continue to fight this draconian law.

About the IP Bill

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, three separate inquiries called for new surveillance laws in the UK. It was recognised that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) had failed to limit surveillance and allowed the creation of surveillance programmes without parliamentary debate or assent. In response, the Government published the draft IP Bill in November 2015.

The IP Bill is a vast piece of legislation that will extend not limit surveillance in the UK. It will mean that:

  • Internet Service Providers could be obliged to store their customers' web browsing history for a year. The police and government departments will have unprecedented powers to access this data through a search engine that could be used for profiling.
  • The security services will continue to have powers to collect communications data in bulk.
  • The police and security services will have new hacking powers.
  • The security services can access and analyse public and private databases, even though the majority of data will be held about people who are not suspected of any crimes.

For more information about the Bill and what it means, visit ORG's campaign hub .

 

 

Update: Unjust law rejected for the 2nd time...

Government rejects Lords attempt to enact a nasty press censorship law forcing newspapers to submit to censorship or else lose the right to justice and a fair trial


Link Here16th November 2016
The Government has rejected for a second time amendments from peers seeking press cenorship.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland insisted it would be simply not appropriate to include within the Investigatory Powers Bill changes designed to ensure costs are awarded against newspaper and media organisations in press censorship cases.

Pro-censorship peers have repeatedly sought to amend the Bill so it implements a key part of the Leveson Inquiry report forcing newspapers and the media to submit to censorship.

MPs voted to reject the latest Lords amendments by 295 votes to 245, a majority of 50.

Ministers are currently conducting a ten-week consultation which includes examining whether to implement legislation which would force newspapers to pay all of the costs of libel or privacy actions brought against them -- even if they win their case. This injustice would not apply to publications which sign up to a new state-backed press censor.

Labour is inevitably supporting this censorship attempt with Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott saying:

Labour fully supports this set of amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill and on this side of the House we have consistently and genuinely called for the Leveson recommendations to be implemented in full.

SNP justice spokeswoman Joanna Cherry also supported the injustice and censorship saying:

Those who have not hacked, do not hack phones and do not intend to hack telephones or indeed emails have nothing to fear from these provisions.

But Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said:

This is an absolutely dreadful amendment. It should be thrown out, rejected, sent back to the House of Lords. It is fundamentally wrong. It seeks to punish those who may be innocent, to fine them for telling the truth, for saying things that people in power do not like. It goes to the heart of our free press and it should be thrown in the bin.

 

 

Perhaps Facebook can sort out the mess...

Yvette Cooper calls on social media websites to censor posts that criticise or insult islam and immigration


Link Here15th November 2016
Yvette Cooper MP is Chair of parliament's Home Affairs Committee. The Committee is today holding a session hearing views about hate crime, including a session specifically on Islamophobia in the coming weeks.

Cooper said in a statement introducing the session:

No one should ever find themselves targeted by violence or hatred because of the colour of their skin, their religion, gender, sexuality or disability.

Yet we are seeing reports of rising hate crime linked to political events like the US Presidential Election or the EU referendum - from the terrible murder of a Polish man in Essex, to assaults on young Muslim women on US university campuses.

The Trump campaign, and the reports of hate crime in the US since the election, should be a warning to all of us about the dangers of whipping up hatred and prejudice.

In a democracy, political disagreement should never provoke violence, hatred or discrimination. Campaigners and political leaders have a responsibility to ensure their rhetoric does not inflame prejudice or become a licence for hate crime.

We are concerned by reports of increasing hate crime in Britain over the last few years, including increasing online threats, harassment and abuse. And we want to examine far right extremism in Britain, and the threat it poses.

We want to look at whether and why hate crimes have increased, at what can be done to prevent and prosecute hate crime. Victims should have the confidence to know that if they report incidents, they will be taken seriously by the criminal justice system. And because this no longer only happens on the streets, the Committee will be assessing how social media companies can use their technological capabilities and resources to respond to a tide of hate. Online and offline hate crime can no longer be seen as separate, they are intrinsically linked and must be tackled together.

Political debate -- in this country and around the world -- should be strong and robust ...BUT... should seek to calm tensions, not inflame them. Free speech is a fundamental right in the UK and it should be afforded to everyone --free from intimidation and abuse.

 

 

Banning opinions...

Labour peer to make another attempt to ban opinion polls before elections


Link Here11th November 2016
The Labour peer George Foulkes is planning to revive his bill that would ban or restrict election polling.

The bill would introduce strict rules on polling companies and could even ban polls being conducted in the weeks leading up to an election.

Foulkes introduced legislation in the last parliament aimed at setting up an Ofcom style censor for polling companies. The body would draw up rules setting standards for conducting polls and be governed by a board made up of representatives of the polling companies, political parties and the media.

The bill failed but Foulkes, who has served as both and MP and an MSP, is determined to revive it after the polls apparently failed to predict Donald Trump's election victory in America. He said:

 In light of the US polls fiasco and Brexit I intend to pursue this bill again.

Once again we've seen how often polling is wrong, which is why the companies involved should welcome regulation and a strict standards to adhere to which would improve their credibility.

Banning polling in the last couple of weeks before an election would switch the focus to the issues at stake rather than the media just regurgitating the latest poll.

But surely opinion polls are wrong, not because of lax control, but simply because political correctness is oppressive and does not allow people to say what they think. For instance who is going to tell pollsters that they feel behind in the jobs or welfare queue to immigrants and refugees.

 

 

The digital economy as dominated by the US...

Campaigners suggest that Google and Facebook should pay a levy to assist local journalists


Link Here9th November 2016
The Media Reform Coalition and National Union of Journalists are hoping to make Google and Facebook fund journalism in Britain.

They are seeking to persuade politicians to include a new amendment to the digital economy bill, which is currently going through parliament. It will propose a 1% levy on the operations of the digital giants in order to pay for independent and non-profit journalism.

A statement issued by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) argues that digital intermediaries such as Google and Facebook are not only amassing eye-watering profits and paying minimal tax in the UK, they are also bleeding the newspaper industry dry by sucking up advertising revenue . It continues:

As national and local newspapers try to cut their way out of trouble by slashing editorial budgets and shedding staff, journalistic quality is becoming a casualty.

Public interest journalism in particular has been hit the hardest as newspapers are being lured into a clickbait culture which favours the sensational and the trivial.

In the light of this, we propose a 1% levy on the operations of the largest digital intermediaries with the resulting funds redistributed to non-profit ventures with a mandate to produce original local or investigative news reporting.

 

 

Update: Painful, dangerous and causing long standing damage...

MPs line up to propose silly censorial amendments to the Digital Economy Bill


Link Here 7th November 2016
Thangam Debbonaire, a Labour MP from Bristol proposed a ludicrous amendment to the Digital Economy Bill suggesting that online distributors of porn should be jailed if they were aware, or should have been aware of anybody being coerced in its production. She also suggested prison time for distributors of films which depict people being forced to perform painful and dangerous acts.

She told the Bristol Post that evidence showed that some people in the adult film industry were forced to do things that were painful, dangerous and causing long standing damage . Others were being sold into the trade, she claimed.

She acknowledged that there were already laws in place which drew a clear line that having sex with someone trafficked or coerced was unacceptable . I believe this now needs to be applied to pornography, Debbonaire said. She also asked whether it was time to set-up a censor so that viewers can be sure that they are not watching a sexual assault taking place on screen.

Culture Minister Matthew Hancock replied to the MP, patronisingly 'praising' her powerful and passionate speech . He said that, while he entirely supported the thrust of the argument , but he believed her suggestion fell into technical difficulties .

Hancock said many of the restrictions being called for by Debbonaire were covered, or even taken further, by existing legislation , especially the Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced last year. He also said it could be difficult to prove whether a distributor of online porn knew that someone who featured in one of their films had been trafficked. Hancock added:

I'm concerned that the offence could be difficult to prosecute.

To show that someone 'knew or should have known' that someone had been exploited could be difficult. It could be quite a tenuous link between those people [the distributor] and the people responsible for the trafficking themselves.

Debbonaire withdrew the amendment. She told the Post she wanted to highlight the issue of coercion to those who watch pornography.

What I really want is for the men, and some women, that consume porn to stop and think, what is it that I'm watching? I want people to start thinking and asking questions like, is there a safe way to be involved in the production of porn?

 

 

Update: The Usual Suspects...

MPs propose another amendment to force ISPs to block porn sites for everybody


Link Here6th November 2016
A group of MPs have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would force pornography websites to be blocked by ISPs if they fail to verify the age of their users.

This is the second time such amendments have been suggested. The MPs involved are Claire Perry, David Burrowes, Fiona Bruce, Derek Thomas, Jeremy Lefroy, Caroline Ansell, Heidi Allen, Andrew Selous, Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller, Fiona Mactaggart.

Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock said:

Perhaps these MPs have realised that plans to make all adult websites apply age verification are unworkable as foreign porn sites may simply not comply. They are now suggesting that websites who don't comply should be blocked -- even though their content is perfectly legal.

While child protection is important, this proposal is disproportionate. Censorship of this kind should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.

We are talking about potentially thousands of websites with legal material being censored, something that is unprecedented in the developed world.

The Digital Economy Bill has proposed that all pornography websites should be forced to verify the age of their users. This has sparked concerns that the privacy of adults could be violated. It is not yet clear how age verification will be implemented but it could lead to the collection of data on everyone who visits a porn website. This kind of information could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style data breaches.

The Open Rights Group further commented:

The amendment has been tabled because MPs understand that age verification cannot be imposed upon the entire mostly US-based pornographic industry by the UK alone. In the USA, age verification has been seen by the courts as an infringement on the right of individuals to receive and impart information. This is unlikely to change, so use of age verification technologies will be limited at best.

However, the attempt to punish websites by blocking them is also a punishment inflicted on the visitors to these websites. Blocking them is a form of censorship, it is an attempt to restrict access to them for everyone. When material is restricted in this way, it needs to be done for reasons that are both necessary for the goal, and proportionate to the aim. It has to be effective in order to be proportionate.

The goal is to protect children, although the level of harm has not been established. According to OfCom: More than nine in ten parents in 2015 said they mediated their child's use of the internet in some way, with 96% of parents of 3-4s and 94% of parents of 5-15s using a combination of: regularly talking to their children about managing online risks, using technical tools, supervising their child, and using rules or restrictions. (1)

70% of households have no children. These factors make the necessity and proportionality of both age verification and censorship quite difficult to establish. This issue affects 30% of households who can choose to apply filters and use other strategies to keep their children safe online.

It is worth remembering also that the NSPCC and others tend to accept that teenagers are likely to continue to access pornography despite these measures. They focus their concerns on 9-12 years olds coming across inappropriate material, despite a lack of evidence that there is any volume of these incidents, or that harm has resulted. While it is very important to ensure that 9-12 year olds are safe online, it seems more practical to focus attention directly on their online environment, for instance through filters and parental intervention, than attempting to make the entire UK Internet conform to standards that are acceptable for this age group.

That MPs are resorting to proposals for website blocking tells us that the age verification proposals themselves are flawed. MPs should be asking about the costs and privacy impacts, and why such a lack of thought has gone into this. Finally, they should be asking what they can do to help children through practical education and discussion of the issues surrounding pornography, which will not go away, with or without attempts to restrict access.

 

 

Update: Lording over an end to privacy in Britain...

Investigatory Powers Bill passes in the House of Lords


Link Here2nd November 2016

The Investigatory Powers Bill is one step closer to becoming law after it was passed by the House of Lords yesterday.

Open Rights Group's Executive Director, Jim Killock, responded:

The UK is one step closer to having one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy.

Despite attempts by the Lib Dems and Greens to restrain these draconian powers, the Bill is still a threat to the British public's right to privacy.

The IP Bill is a comprehensive surveillance law that was drafted after three inquiries highlighted flaws in existing legislation. However, the new Bill fails to restrain mass surveillance by the police and security services and even extends their powers. Once passed, Internet Service Providers could be obliged to store their customers' web browsing history for a year. The police and government departments will have unprecedented powers to access this data through a search engine that could be used for profiling. The Bill will also allow the security services to continue to collect communications data in bulk and could see Internet security weakened by allowing mass hacking.

ORG's concerns are outlined here .

The IP Bill will now return to the House of Commons for a final vote.

 

 

Update: Censorship creeps...

Open Rights Group reports on the clamour of MPs, notably Claire Perry, to add website blocking into the measures against adult websites that do not implement age verification


Link Here28th October 2016
The current wording of the Digital Economy Bill punishes foreign adult websites who do not implement age verification by suffocating them from payments and advertising. It does not at the moment facilitate such websites by being blocked by ISPs. Open Rights Group reports on a clamour by censorial MPs to table amendment to give powers to block non-complying websites. I suspect that in reality the security services would not be very appreciative as maybe massive use of VPNs and the like would hinder surveillance of criminals and terrorists. The Open Rights Group reports:

Now we want censorship: porn controls in the Digital Economy Bill are running out of control

The government's proposal for age verification to access pornography is running out of control. MPs have worked out that attempts to verify adult's ages won't stop children from accessing other pornographic websites: so their proposed answer is to start censoring these websites.

That's right: in order to make age verification technologies "work", some MPs want to block completely legal content from access by every UK citizen . It would have a massive impact on the free expression of adults across the UK. The impact for sexual minorities would be particularly severe.

This only serves to illustrate the problems with the AV proposal. Age verification was always likely to be accompanied by calls to block "non-compliant" overseas websites, and also to be extended to more and more categories of "unsuitable" material.

We have to draw a line. Child protection is very important, but let's try to place this policy in some context:

  • 70% of UK households have no children

  • Take up of ISP filters is around 10-30% depending on ISP, so roughly in line with expectations and already restricting content in the majority of households with children (other measures may be restricting access in other cases).

  • Most adults access pornography , including a large proportion of women.

     

  • Less that 3% of children aged 9-12 are believed to have accessed inappropriate material

  • Pornography can and will be circulated by young people by email, portable media and private messaging systems

  • The most effective protective measures are likely to be to help young people understand and regulate their own behaviour through education, which the government refuses to make compulsory

MPs have to ask whether infringing on the right of the entire UK population to receive and impart legal material is a proportionate and effective response to the challenges they wish to address.

Censorship is an extreme response, that should be reserved for the very worst, most harmful kinds of unlawful material: it impacts not just the publisher, but the reader. Yet this is supposed to be a punishment targeted at the publishers, in order to persuade the sites to "comply".

If website blocking was to be rolled out to enforce AV compliance, then the regulator would be forced to consider whether to block a handful of websites, and fail to "resolve" the accessibility of pornography, or else to try to censor thousands of websites, with the attendant administrative burden and increasing likelihood of errors.

You may ask: how likely is this to become law? Right now, Labour seem to be considering this approach as quite reasonable. If Labour did support these motions in a vote, together with a number of Conservative rebels, this amendment could easily be added to the Bill.

Another area where the Digital Economy Bill is running out of control is the measures to target services who "help" pornography publishers. The Bill tries to give duties to "ancillary services" such as card payment providers or advertising networks, to stop the services from making money from UK customers. However, the term is vague. They are defined as someone who:

provide[s], in the course of a business, services which enable or facilitate the making available of pornographic material or prohibited material on the internet by the [publisher]

Ancillary services could include website hosts, search engines, DNS services, web designers, hosted script libraries, furniture suppliers ... this needs restriction just for the sake of some basic legal certainty.

Further problems are arising for services including Twitter, who operate on the assumption that adults can use them to circulate whatever they like, including pornography. It is unclear if or when they might be caught by the provisions. They are also potentially "ancillary providers" who could be forced to stop "supplying" their service to pornographers to UK customers. They might therefore be forced to block adult content accounts to UK adults, with or without age verification.

The underlying problem starts with the strategy to control access to widely used and legal content through legislative measures. This is not a sane way to proceed. It has and will lead to further calls for control and censorship as the first steps fail. More calls to "fix" the holes proceed, and the UK ends up on a ratchet of increasing control. Nothing quite works, so more fixes are needed. The measures get increasingly disproportionate.

Website blocking needs to be opposed, and kept out of the Bill.

 

 

It would be interesting if the search engines pulled out of Britain...

MPs table amendments to the Digital Economy to introduce penalties for search engines if they don't comply with the wishes of copyright holders


Link Here 28th October 2016
Proposed amendments to the UK's Digital Economy Bill have revealed a desire by some MPs to force search engines to tackle piracy. A new clause would require search engines to come to a voluntary arrangement with rightsholders, or face being forced into one by the government.

Content owners regularly accuse companies such as Google and Bing of including infringing content in their search results, often on the initial pages following a search where exposure to the public is greatest.

In addition to having these pirate results demoted or removed entirely, content providers believe that results featuring genuine content should receive priority, to ensure that the legitimate market thrives.

At least in part, Google has complied with industry requests. Sites which receive the most takedown notices are demoted in results, while some legitimate content has been appearing higher. But of course, entertainment industry companies want more -- and they might just get it.

Currently under discussion in Parliament is the Digital Economy Bill. The Bill appears to be broadening in scope and the role of search engines is now on the agenda, something which the BPI hinted at last week in comments to TorrentFreak. A new clause titled Power to provide for a code of practice related to copyright infringement envisions a situation whereby search engines come to a voluntary agreement with rightsholders on how best to tackle piracy, or have one forced upon them.

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a search engine to be required to adopt a code of practice concerning copyright infringement that complies with criteria specified in the regulations, the proposed clause reads.

The regulations may provide that if a search engine fails to adopt such a code of practice, any code of practice that is approved for the purposes of that search engine by the Secretary of State, or by a person designated by the Secretary of State, has effect as a code of practice adopted by the search engine.

If the clause was adopted, the Secretary of State would also be granted powers to investigate disputes surrounding a search engine's compliance with any code, appoint a regulator, and/or impose financial penalties or other sanctions if companies like Google fall short.

 

 

Update: Snooping on Facebook Messages...

Government introduces an amendment to the snoopers' charter bill that frees ISPs from trying to track messages sent via websites


Link Here23rd October 2016
The UK government has introduced an amendment to the Investigatory Powers Bill currently going through Parliament, to make ensure that data retention orders cannot require ISPs to collect and retain third party data. The Home Office had previously said that they didn't need powers to force ISPs to collect third party data, but until now refused to provide guarantees in law.

Third party data is defined as communications data (sender, receiver, date, time etc) for messages sent within a website as opposed to messages sent by more direct methods such as email. It is obviously a bit tricky for ISPs to try and decode what is going on within websites as messaging data formats are generally proprietary, and in the general case, simply not de-cypherable by ISPs.

The Government will therefore snoop on messages sent, for example via Facebook, by demanding the communication details from Facebook themselves.

 

 

Update: It's a shitty job but someone's happy to do it...

BBFC designated as the porn censor tasked with banning everybody's free porn


Link Here12th October 2016

The BBFC has signed an agreement with the U.K. government to act as the country's new internet porn censor.

BBFC Director David Austin explained the censor's new role regulating online adult entertainment to a committee in Parliament weighing the 2016 Digital Economy Bill. Austin discussed how the BBFC will approach those sites that are found to be in contravention to U.K. law in regards to verifying that adult content can't be accessed by under 18s.

Austin said that the 2016 Digital Economy Bill now being weighed will achieve a great deal for the BBFC's new role as the age-verification enforcer. The piece of legislation, if given the OK, could impose financial penalties of up to $250,000 for noncomplying adult entertainment sites.

Austin said that the BBFC will methodically start focusing on the largest offending websites, including foreign ones, and notifying them for breaches in the U.K.'s mandatory age-verification laws. Austin said that offending sites will face a notification process that may include the filing of sanctions against sites' business partners, such as payment providers and others that supply ancillary services. Austin also mentioned that sanctioned sites could find web properties blocked by IP address and de-indexed from search engines.

Digital Economy Bill 2nd Sitting

See article from hansard.parliament.uk

David Austin : My name is David Austin. I am the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification.

Alan Wardle: I am Alan Wardle, head of policy and public affairs at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)  

Q David, am I right in interpreting the amendments that the Government tabled last night as meaning that you are intended to be the age verification regulator?

David Austin: That is correct. We reached heads of agreement with the Government last week to take on stages 1 to 3 of the regulation.

Louise Haigh   Q Are you sufficiently resourced to take on that role?  

David Austin: We will be, yes. We have plenty of time to gear up, and we will have sufficient resource.  

Louise Haigh   Q Will it involve a levy on the porn industry?  

David Austin: It will involve the Government paying us the money to do the job on our usual not-for-profit basis.  

Louise Haigh   Q What risks do you envisage in people handing over their personal data to the pornographic industry?  

David Austin: Privacy is one of the most important things to get right in relation to this regime. As a regulator, we are not interested in identity at all. The only thing that we are interested in is age, and the only thing that a porn website should be interested in is age. The simple question that should be returned to the pornographic website or app is, "Is this person 18 or over?" The answer should be either yes or no. No other personal details are necessary.  

We should bear in mind that this is not a new system. Age verification already exists, and we have experience of it in our work with the mobile network operators, where it works quite effectively--you can age verify your mobile phone, for example. It is also worth bearing in mind that an entire industry is developing around improving age verification. Research conducted by a UK adult company in relation to age verification on their online content shows that the public is becoming much more accepting of age verification.

Back in July 2015, for example, this company found that more than 50% of users were deterred when they were asked to age verify. As of September, so just a few weeks ago, that figure had gone down to 2.3%. It is established technology, it is getting better and people are getting used to it, but you are absolutely right that privacy is paramount.

Louise Haigh   Q Are you suggesting that it will literally just be a question--"Is the user aged 18?"--and their ticking a box to say yes or no? How else could you disaggregate identity from age verification?  

David Austin: There are a number of third-party organisations. I have experience with mobile phones. When you take out a mobile phone contract, the adult filters are automatically turned on and the BBFC's role is to regulate what content goes in front of or behind the adult filters. If you want to access adult content--and it is not just pornography; it could be depictions of self-harm or the promotion of other things that are inappropriate for children--you can go to your operator, such as EE, O2 or Vodafone, with proof that you are 18 or over. It is then on the record that that phone is age verified. That phone can then be used in other contexts to access content.  

Louise Haigh   Q But how can that be disaggregated from identity? That person's personal data is associated with that phone and is still going to be part of the contract.  

David Austin: It is known by the mobile network operator, but beyond that it does not need to be known at all.  

Louise Haigh   Q And is that the only form of age verification that you have so far looked into? 

David Austin: The only form of age verification that we, as the BBFC, have experience of is age verification on mobile phones, but there are other methods and there are new methods coming on line. The Digital Policy Alliance, which I believe had a meeting here yesterday to demonstrate new types of age verification, is working on a number of initiatives.  

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)   Q May I say what great comfort it is to know that the BBFC will be involved in the regulatory role? It suggests that this will move in the right direction. We all feel very strongly that the Bill is a brilliant step in the right direction: things that were considered inconceivable four or five years ago can now be debated and legislated for.  

The fundamental question for me comes down to enforcement. We know that it is difficult to enforce anything against offshore content providers; that is why in the original campaign we went for internet service providers that were British companies, for whom enforcement could work. What reassurance can you give us that enforcement, if you have the role of enforcement, could be carried out against foreign entities? Would it not be more appropriate to have a mandatory take-down regime if we found that a company was breaking British law by not asking for age verification, as defined in the Bill?

David Austin: The BBFC heads of agreement with the Government does not cover enforcement. We made clear that we would not be prepared to enforce the legislation in clauses 20 and 21 as they currently stand. Our role is focused much more on notification; we think we can use the notification process and get some quite significant results.  

We would notify any commercially-operated pornographic website or app if we found them acting in contravention of the law and ask them to comply. We believe that some will and some, probably, will not, so as a second backstop we would then be able to contact and notify payment providers and ancillary service providers and request that they withdraw services from those pornographic websites. So it is a two-tier process.

We have indications from some major players in the adult industry that they want to comply--PornHub, for instance, is on record on the BBC News as having said that it is prepared to comply. But you are quite right that there will still be gaps in the regime, I imagine, after we have been through the notification process, no matter how much we can achieve that way, so the power to fine is essentially the only real power the regulator will have, whoever the regulator is for stage 4.

For UK-based websites and apps, that is fine, but it would be extremely challenging for any UK regulator to pursue foreign-based websites or apps through a foreign jurisdiction to uphold a UK law. So we suggested, in our submission of evidence to the consultation back in the spring, that ISP blocking ought to be part of the regulator's arsenal. We think that that would be effective.

Claire Perry   Q Am I right in thinking that, for sites that are providing illegally copyrighted material, there is currently a take-down and blocking regime that does operate in the UK, regardless of their jurisdiction?  

David Austin: Yes; ISPs do block website content that is pirated. There was research published earlier this year in the US that found that it drove traffic to pirated @ websites down by about 90%. Another tool that has been used in relation to IP protection is de-indexing, whereby a search engine removes the infringing website from any search results. We also see that as a potential way forward.  

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)   Q First, can I verify that you both support adding in the power to require ISPs to block non-compliant sites?  

David Austin: Yes.  

Alan Wardle: Yes, we support that.  

Thangam Debbonaire   Q Good. That was quick. I just wanted to make sure that was there. What are your comments on widening the scope, so that age verification could be enforced for matters other than pornography, such as violent films or other content that we would not allow in the offline world? I am talking about things such as pro-anorexia websites. We know that this is possible to do in certain formats, because it is done for other things, such as copyright infringement. What are your views on widening the scope and the sanctions applying to that?  

Alan Wardle: We would support that. We think the Bill is a really great step forward, although some things, such as enforcement, need to be strengthened. We think this is an opportunity to see how you can give children parity of protection in the online and the offline worlds.  

It is very good, from our perspective, that the BBFC is doing this, because they have got that expertise. Pornography is not the only form of harm that children see online. We know from our research at the NSPCC that there are things like graphic violence. You mentioned some of the pro-anorexia and pro-suicide sites, and they are the kind of things that ought to be dealt with. We are supporting developing a code of practice with industry to work out what those harms are--and that is very much a staged approach.

We take it for granted that when, for instance, a child goes to a youth group or something like that, we make sure there are protections there, and that the staff are CRB checked. Somehow it seems that for children going on to the internet it is a bit like the wild west. There are very few protections. Some of the content really is upsetting and distressing to children. This is not about adults being blocked from seeing adult content. That is absolutely fine; we have no problem with that at all. But it is about protecting children from seeing content that is inappropriate for them. We would certainly support that widening, but obviously doing it in a staged way so that the regulator does not take on too much at once. We would certainly support that.

David Austin: I would echo what Alan says. We see this Bill as a significant step forward in terms of child protection. We absolutely agree with the principle of protecting children from a wider range of content--indeed, that is what we do in other areas: for example, with the mobile network operators and their adult filters. Like Alan, I think we see it in terms of more of a staged approach. The BBFC taking on this role is a significant new area of work--quite a challenge to take on board. I think there is a potential risk of overloading the Bill if we try to put too much on it, so I would very much support the NSPCC's phased approach.  

Thangam Debbonaire   Q Is there anything further that you think needs to be added to the Bill to make the sanctions regime work? I am also thinking--at the risk of going against what you just said, Mr Austin--about whether or not we should be considering sites that are not designed for commercial purposes but where pornography or other harmful material is available on a non-commercial basis; or things not designed for porn at all, such as Twitter timelines or Tumblr and other social media, where the main purpose may not be pornography or other harmful material, but it is available. Do you think the Bill has enough sanctions in it to cope with all of that, or should that be added? Is there anything else you would like to add?  

David Austin: There were a few questions. I will try to answer them all, but if I miss any of them please come back to me. In terms of sanctions, I have talked about ISP blocking and de-indexing. We think those could be potentially effective steps. In terms of commercial pornography, we have been working on devising a test of what that is. The Bill states explicitly that the pornography could be free and still provided on a commercial basis. I do not think it is narrowing the scope of the regulation an awful lot by specifying commercial pornography. If there are adverts, if the owner is a corporate entity, if there are other aspects--if the site is exploiting data, for example: there are all sorts of indications that a site is operating on a commercial basis. So I do not see that as a real problem.  

In relation to Twitter, which you mentioned, what the Bill says the regulator should do is define what it sees as ancillary service providers. Those are organisations whose work facilitates and enables the pornography to be distributed. There is certainly a case to argue that social media such as Twitter are ancillary service providers. There are Twitter account holders who provide pornography on Twitter so I think you could definitely argue that.

I would argue that Twitter is an ancillary service provider, as are search engines and ISPs. One of the things that we plan to do in the next weeks and months would be to engage with everyone that we think is an ancillary service provider, and see what we can achieve together, to try and achieve the maximum protection we can through the notification regime that we are taking on as part 3 of the Bill. The Chair

Just before we move on, shall we see if Mr Wardle also wants to contribute to things that should be in the Bill?

Alan Wardle: On that point, I think it is important for us that there is clarification--and I would agree with David about this--in terms of ensuring that sites that may for instance be commercial but that are not profiting from pornography are covered. Again, Twitter is an example. We know that there are porn stars with Twitter accounts who have lots of people following them and lots of content, so it is important that that is covered.  

It is important that the legislation is future-proofed. We are seeing at the NSPCC through Childline that sexual content or pornography are increasingly live-streamed through social media sites, and there is self-generated content, too. It is important that that is covered, as well as the traditional--what you might call commercial--porn. We know from our research at the NSPCC that children often stumble across pornography, or it is sent to them. We think that streamed feeds for over-18s and under-18s should be possible so that sort of content is not available to children. It can still be there for adults, but not for children. Nigel Adams   Q Can you give us your perspective on the scale of the problem of under-18s' access to this sort of inappropriate content? I guess it is difficult to do a study into it but, through the schools network and education departments, do you have any idea of the scale of the issue?  

Alan Wardle: We did research earlier this year with the University of Middlesex into this issue. We asked young people--under 18s--whether they had seen pornography and when. Between the ages of 11 and 18, about half of them had seen pornography. Obviously, when you get to older children--16 and 17-year-old-boys in particular--it was much higher. Some 90% of those 11 to 18-year-olds had seen it by the age of 14. It was striking--I had not expected this--that, of the children who had seen it, about half had searched for it but the other half had stumbled across it through pop-ups or by being sent stuff on social media that they did not want to see.  

It is a prevalent problem. If a determined 17-year-old boy wants to see pornography, undoubtedly he will find a way of doing it, but of particular concern to us is when you have got eight, nine or 10-year-old children stumbling across this stuff and being sent things that they find distressing. Through Childline, we are getting an increasing number of calls from children who have seen pornographic content that has upset them.

Nigel Adams   Q Has there been any follow-on, in terms of assaults perpetrated by youngsters as a result of being exposed to this?  

Alan Wardle: It is interesting to note that there has been an exponential rise in the number of reports of sexual assaults against children in the past three or four years. I think it has gone up by about 84% in the past three years.  

Nigel Adams   Q By children?  

Alan Wardle: Against children. Part of that, we think, is what you might call the Savile effect--since the Savile scandal there has been a much greater awareness of child abuse and children are more likely to come forward, which we think is a good thing. But Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is the national lead on child protection, believes that a significant proportion of that is due to the internet. Predators are able to cast their net very widely through social networking sites and gaming sites, fishing for vulnerable children to groom and abuse.  

We believe that, in developing the code of practice that I talked about earlier, that sort thing needs to be built in to ensure that children are protected from that sort of behaviour in such spaces. The internet is a great thing but, as with everything, it can be used for darker purposes. We think there is increasing evidence--Simon Bailey has said this, and more research needs to be done into the scale of it--that children, as well as seeing adult content, are increasingly being groomed for sex online.

Nigel Adams   Q Mr Austin, what constructive conversations and meetings have you had with ISPs thus far, in terms of the potential for blocking those sites--especially the sites generated abroad?

David Austin: We have not had any conversations yet, because we signed the exchange of letters with the Government only last Thursday and it was made public only today that we are taking on this role. We have relationships with ISPs--particularly the mobile network operators, with which we have been working for a number of years to bring forward child protection on mobile devices.  

Our plan is to engage with ISPs, search engines, social media--the range of people we think are ancillary service providers under the Bill--over the next few weeks and months to see what we can achieve together. We will also be talking to the adult industry. As we have been regulating pornography in the offline space and, to an extent, in the online space for a number of years, we have good contacts with the adult industry so we will engage with them.

Many companies in the adult industry are prepared to work with us. Playboy , for instance, works with us on a purely voluntary basis online. There is no law obliging it to work with us, but it wants to ensure that all the pornography it provides is fully legally and compliant with British Board of Film Classification standards, and is provided to adults only. We are already working in this space with a number of players.

Nigel Huddleston   Q Obviously, the BBFC is very experienced at classifying films according to certain classifications and categories. I am sure it is no easy task, but it is possible to use an objective set of criteria to define what is pornographic or disturbing, or is it subjective? How do you get that balance?  

David Austin: The test of whether something is pornographic is a test that we apply every single day, and have done since the 1980s when we first started regulating that content under the Video Recordings Act 1984. The test is whether the primary purpose of the work is to arouse sexually. If it is, it is pornography. We are familiar with that test and use it all the time.  

Nigel Huddleston   Q In terms of skills and resources, are you confident you will be able to get the right people in to do the job properly? I am sure that it is quite a disturbing job in some cases.  

David Austin: Yes. We already have people who have been viewing pornographic content for a number of years. We may well need to recruit one or two extra people, but we certainly have the expertise and we are pretty confident that we already have the resources. We have time between now and the measures in the Bill coming into force to ensure that we have a fully effective system up and running.  

The Minister for Digital and Culture (Matt Hancock)   Q I just want to put on the record that we are delighted that the BBFC has signed the heads of agreement to regulate this area. I cannot think of a better organisation with the expertise and the experience to make it work. What proportion of viewed material do you think will be readily covered by the proposed mechanism in the Bill that you will be regulating the decision over but not the enforcement of?  

David Austin: I am not sure that I understand the question.  

Matt Hancock   Q I am thinking about the scale of the problem--the number of views by under-18s of material that you deem to be pornographic. What proportion of the problem do you think the Bill, with your work, will fix?  

David Austin: So we are talking about the amount of pornography that is online?  

Matt Hancock   Q And what is accessed.  

David Austin: Okay. As you all know, there is masses of pornography online. There are 1.5 million new pornographic URLs coming on stream every year. However, the way in which people access pornography in this country is quite limited. Some 70% of users go to the 50 most popular websites. With children, that percentage is even greater; the data evidence suggests that they focus on a relatively small number of sites.  

We would devise a proportionality test and work out what the targets are in order to achieve the greatest possible level of child protection. We would focus on the most popular websites and apps accessed by children--those data do exist. We would have the greatest possible impact by going after those big ones to start with and then moving down the list.

Matt Hancock   Q So you would be confident of being able to deal with the vast majority of the problem.  

David Austin: Yes. We would be confident in dealing with the sites and apps that most people access. Have I answered the question?  

Matt Hancock   Q Yes. Given that there is a big problem that is hard to tackle and complicated, I was just trying to get a feel for how much of the problem you think, with your expertise and the Bill, we can fix.  

David Austin: We can fix a great deal of the problem. We cannot fix everything. The Bill is not a panacea but it can achieve a great deal, and we believe we can achieve a great deal working as the regulator for stages 1 to 3.  

Louise Haigh   Q My question follows on neatly from that. While I am sure that the regulation will tackle those top 50 sites, it obviously comes nowhere near tackling the problems that Mr Wardle outlined, and the crimes, such as grooming, that can flow from those problems. There was a lot of discussion on Second Reading about peer-to-peer and social media sites that you have called "ancillary". No regulation in the world is going to stop that. Surely, the most important way to tackle that is compulsory sex education at school.  

Alan Wardle: Yes. In terms of online safety, a whole range of things are needed and a whole lot of players. This will help the problem. We would agree and want to work with BBFC about a proportionality test and identifying where the biggest risks are to children, and for that to be developing. That is not the only solution.  

Yes, we believe that statutory personal, social and health education and sexual relationships education is an important part of that. Giving parents the skills and understanding of how to keep their children safe is also really important. But there is a role for industry. Any time I have a conversation with an MP or parliamentarian about this and they have a child in their lives--whether @ their own, or nieces or nephews--we quickly come to the point that it is a bit of a nightmare. They say, "We try our best to keep our children safe but there is so much, we don't know who they are speaking to" and all the rest of it.

How do we ensure that when children are online they are as safe as they are when offline? Of course, things happen in the real world as well and no solution is going to be perfect. Just as, in terms of content, we would not let a seven-year-old walk into the multiplex and say, "Here is 'Finding Nemo' over here and here is hard core porn--off you go."

We need to build those protections in online so we know what children are seeing and whom they speaking to, and also skilling up children themselves through school and helping parents. But we believe the industry has an important part to play in Government, in terms of regulating and ensuring that spaces where children are online are as safe as they can be.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)   Q To follow on from the Minister's question, you feel you are able to tackle roughly the top 50 most visited sites. Is there a danger that you then replace those with the next top 50 that are perhaps less regulated and less co-operative? How might we deal with that particular problem, if it exists?  

David Austin: When I said "the top 50", I was talking in terms of the statistics showing that 70% of people go to the top 50. We would start with the top 50 and work our way through those, but we would not stop there. We would look to get new data every quarter, for example. As you say, sites will come in and out of popularity. We will keep up to date and focus on those most popular sites for children.  

We would also create something that we have, again, done with the mobile operators. We would create an ability for members of the public--a parent, for example--to contact us about a particular website if that is concerning them. If an organisation such as the NSPCC is getting information about a particular website or app that is causing problems in terms of under-age access, we would take a look at that as well. In creating this proportionality test what we must not do is be as explicit as to say that we will look only at the top 50.

First, that is not what we would do. Secondly, we do not want anyone to think, "Okay, we don't need to worry about the regulator because we are not on their radar screen." It is very important to keep up to date with what are the most popular sites and, therefore, the most effective in dealing with under-age regulation, dealing with complaints from members of the public and organisations such as the NSPCC.

Alan Wardle: I think that is why the enforcement part is so important as well, so that people know that if they do not put these mechanisms in place there will be fines and enforcement notices, the flow of money will be stopped and, crucially, there is that backstop power to block if they do not operate as we think they should in this country. The enforcement mechanisms are really important to ensure that the BBFC can do their job properly and people are not just slipping from one place to the next.  

Claire Perry   Q Of those top 50 sites, do we know how many are UK-based? @  

David Austin: I would guess, none of them. I do not know for sure, but that would be my understanding.  

Claire Perry   Q Secondly, I want to turn briefly to the issue of the UK's video on demand content. My reading around clause 15 suggests that, although foreign-made videos on demand will be captured by the new provisions, UK-based will continue to be caught by Communications Act 2003 provisions. Do you think that is adequate?  

David Austin: That is my understanding as well. We work very closely with Ofcom. Ofcom regulates this UK on demand programme services as the Authority for Television On Demand, but it applies our standards in doing so. That is a partnership that works pretty effectively and Ofcom has done an effective job in dealing with that type of content. That is one bit that is carved out from the Bill and already dealt with by Ofcom.  

Claire Perry  

It is already done. Okay. Thank you. The Chair

 

 

Age of censorship...

The Open Rights group has provided written evidence to parliament highlighting the serious flaws in the Digital Economy bill that will employ the BBFC to try and snuff out internet porn


Link Here12th October 2016

Open Rights Group has submitted Written evidence to House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Digital Economy Bill. The following is the groups views on some of the worst aspects of the Age Verification requirements for 18 rated adult internet porn:

Open Rights Group (ORG) is the United Kingdom's only campaigning organisation dedicated to working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online. With 3,200 active supporters, we are a grassroots organisation with local groups across the UK. We believe people have the right to control their technology, and oppose the use of technology to control people.

Age Verification

23. We believe the aim of restricting children's access to inappropriate material is a reasonable one; however placing age verification requirements on adults to access legal material throws up a number of concerns which are not easily resolved.24.Our concerns include: whether these proposals will work; the impact on privacy and freedom of expression; and how pornography is defined.

Lack of privacy safeguards

25. New age verification systems will enable the collection of data about people accessing pornographic websites, potentially across different providers or websites. Accessing legal pornographic material creates sensitive information that may be linkedto a real life identity. The current wording of the draft Bill means that this data could be vulnerable to the "Ashley Madison-style" leaks.

26. MindGeek (the largest global adult entertainment operator) estimates there are 20 to 25 million adults in the UK who access adult content regularly. That is over 20 million people that will have to reveal attributes of their identity to a pornographywebsite or a third party company.

27. Current proposals2 for age-verification systems suggest using people's emails, social media accounts, bank details, credit and electoral information, biometrics and mobile phone details. The use of any of this information exposes pornography website users to threats of data mining, identity theft and unsolicited marketing.

28. The currently proposed age-verification systems have minimal regard for the security of the data they will collect.

29. The Bill does not contain provisions to secure the privacy and anonymity of users of pornographic sites. These must be included in the Bill, not merely in guidance issued by the age-verification regulator. They should ensure that the age-verificationsystem, by default, must not be able to identify a user to the pornographic site by leaving persistent data trails. The user information that pornography websites are allowed to store without additional consent should be strictly limited.

Will age verification work?

30. The objective of these proposals is child safety rather than age verification. Policy makers should not measure success by the number of adults using age verification. It is highly likely that children will be able to continue accessing pornographicmaterial, meaning that the policy will struggle to meet its true goal.

31. The Bill does not outline an effective system to administer age verification. It sets out a difficult task to regulate foreign pornography publishers. This will be difficult to enforce. Even if access to pornographic material hosted abroad is blockedin the UK, bypassing website blocks is very easy - for example through the use of VPNs. Using VPNs is not technically difficult and could easily be used by teenagers to circumvent age verification.

32. Young people will still be able to access pornographic materials through some mainstream social media websites that are not subject to age verification, and from peer-to-peer networks.

33. As with ISP and mobile phone filters, age verification may prevent young children from accidentally finding pornographic material but it is unlikely to restrict a tech-savvy teenager.

Discrimination against sexual minorities and small business

34. The age verification systems will impose disproportionate costs on small publishers. No effective and efficient age verification system has been presented and it is very likely the costs imposed on smaller publishers will cause them to go out of business 3 .

35. Smaller publishers of adult materials often cater for sexual minorities or people with special needs. The costs associated with implementing age verification systems threaten the existence of these sites and thus the ability of particular groupsto express their sexuality by using the services of smaller pornographic publishers.

36. It is unclear whether adults will trust age verification systems, especially if they appear to identify them to the sites. It is possible that there will be a dissuasive effect on adults wishing to receive legal material. This would be a negativeimpact on free expression, and would be likely to disproportionately impact people from sexual minorities.

Definition of pornographic material

37. The definitions of pornographic material included in the Bill are much broader than what is socially accepted as harmful pornography. The Bill not only covers R18 materials typically described as "hardcore pornography", which offline can only be acquiredin licensed sex shops, but also 18-rated materials of a sexual nature. The boundaries of 18 classification are dynamic and reflect social consensus on what is acceptable with some restrictions. Today this would include popular films such as Fifty Shadesof Gray. This extension of the definition of pornography to cover all "erotic" 18 rated films also raises questions as to why violent - but not sexual - materials rated as 18 should then be accessible online.

38. Hiding some of these materials or making them more difficult to access puts unjustifiable restrictions on people's freedom of expression. Placing 18-rated materials beyond the age-verification wall under the same category as hardcore pornography willdiscourage people from exploring topics related to their sexuality.

Suggestions for improvement

39. The online age verification proposed in the Bill is unworkable and will not deliver what Government set out to do. We urge the Government to find more effective solutions to deliver their objectives on the age verification. The online age verificationshould be dropped from the Bill in its current version. 40. The updated version of age verification should incorporate:

41. 1) Privacy safeguards

The regulator should have specific duties to ensure the systems are low risk. For instance, Age verification should not be be in place unless privacy safeguards are strong. Any age verification system should not create wider security risks, for instanceto credit card systems, or through habituating UK Internet users into poor security practices.

42. Users of adult websites should have clarity on the liability of data breaches and what personal data is at risk.

42. 2) Safeguards for sexual minorities

Requirements should be proportionate to the resources available and the likelihood of access by minors. Small websites that cater for sexual minorities may fall under the commercial threshold.

43. 3) Remove 18-rated materials from the definition of pornographic materials

Placing all materials of a sexual nature under the definition of pornography is not helpful and will greatly increase the impact of these measures on the human right to impart and receive information, including of older children and young adults.

Open Rights Group make equally valid arguments against the criminalisation of file sharing  and the introduction of many features of an ID card to tie together vast amounts or personal data held in a variety of government databases.

Red the full article from openrightsgroup.org


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