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UK Internet Censorship


2020: April-June

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A Tale of Two Committees...

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


Link Here26th May 2020

 

 

 

The UK's opening gambit in US trade negotiations is to stifle US social media giants...

The government seems a bit cagey about the timetable for introducing the internet censorship measures contained in ICO's Age Appropriate Design rules


Link Here19th May 2020
Full story: ICO Age Appropriate Design...ICO calls for age assurance for websites accessed by children
The Age Appropriate Design Code has been written by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to inform websites what they must do to keep ICO internet censors at bay with regards to the government's interpretations of GDPR provisions. Perhaps in the same way that the Crown Prosecution Service provides prosecution guidance as to how it interprets criminal law.

The Age Appropriate Design Code dictates how websites, and in particular social media, make sure that they are not exploiting children's personal data. Perhaps the most immediate effect is that social media will have to allow a level of usages that simply does not require children to hand over personal data. Requiring more extensive personal data, say in the way that Facebook does, requires users to provide 'age assurance' that they are old enough to take such decisions wisely.

However adult users may not be so willing to age verify, and may in fact also appreciate an option to use such websites without handing over data into the exploitative hands of social media companies.

So one suspects that US internet social media giants may not see Age Appropriate Design and the government's Online Harms model for internet censorship as commercially very desirable for their best interests. And one suspects that maybe US internet industry pushback may be something that is exerting pressure on UK negotiators seeking a free trade agreement with the US.

Pure conjecture of course, but the government does seem very cagey about its timetable for both the Age Appropriate Design Code and the Online Harms bill. Here is the latest parliamentary debate in the House of Lords very much on the subject of the government's timetable.

House of Lords Hansard: Age-appropriate Design Code, 18 May 2020

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to lay the regulation giving effect to the age- appropriate design code required under section 123 of the Data Protection Act 2018 before Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Barran) (Con)

The age-appropriate design code will play an important role in protecting children's personal data online. The Government notified the final draft of the age-appropriate design code to the European Commission as part of our obligations under the technical standards and regulations directive. The standstill period required under the directive has concluded. The Data Protection Act requires that the code is laid in Parliament as soon as is practicably possible.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:

I am delighted to hear that, my Lords, although no date has been given. The Government have a bit of ground to make up here, so perhaps it will not be delayed too long. Does the Minister agree that the Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect storm for children and for young people's digital experience? More children are online for more time and are more reliant on digital technology. In light of that, more action needs to be taken. Can she give us some information about when the Government will publish their final response to the consultation on the online harms White Paper, for example, and a date for when we are likely to see the draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny?

Baroness Barran

I spent some time this morning with a group of young people, in part discussing their experience online. The noble Lord is right that the pandemic presents significant challenges, and they were clear that they wanted a safe space online as well as physical safe spaces. The Government share that aspiration. We expect to publish our response to the online harms consultation this autumn and to introduce the legislation this Session.

Lord Clement-Jones (LD)

My Lords, I was very disappointed to see in the final version of the code that the section dealing with age-appropriate application has been watered down to leave out reference to age-verification mechanisms. Is this because the age-verification provisions of the Digital Economy Act have been kicked into the long grass at the behest of the pornography industry so that we will not have officially sanctioned age-verification tools available any time soon?

Baroness Barran

There is no intention to water down the code. Its content is the responsibility of the Information Commissioner, who has engaged widely to develop the code, with a call for evidence and a full public consultation.

Lord Moynihan (Con)

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister able to tell the House the results of the consultation process with the industry on possible ways to implement age verification online?

Baroness Barran

We believe that our online harms proposals will deliver a much higher level of protection for children, as is absolutely appropriate. We expect companies to use a proportionate range of tools, including age-assurance and age-verification technologies, to prevent children accessing inappropriate behaviour, whether that be via a website or social media.

The Earl of Erroll (CB)

May I too push the Government to use the design code to cover the content of publicly accessible parts of pornographic websites, since the Government are not implementing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act to protect children? Any online harms Act will be a long time in becoming effective, and such sites are highly attractive to young teenagers.

Baroness Barran

We agree absolutely about the importance of protecting young children online and that is why we are aiming to have the most ambitious online harms legislation in the world. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Digital and Culture meet representatives of the industry regularly to urge them to improve their actions in this area.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the code represents a negotiation vis- -vis the tech companies and thus there is no reason for any delay in laying it before Parliament? Does she further agree that it should be laid before Parliament before 10 June to enable it to pass before the summer break? This would enable the Government to deliver on the claim that the UK is the safest place on the planet to be online. Share The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned: This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Baroness Barran

The negotiation is not just with the tech companies. We have ambitions to be not only a commercially attractive place for tech companies but a very safe place to be online, while ensuring that freedom of speech is upheld. The timing of the laying of the code is dependent on discussions with the House authorities. As my noble friend is aware, there is a backlog of work which needs to be processed because of the impact of Covid-19.

 

 

Harmful censorship...

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


Link Here14th May 2020
The DCMS minister for censorship, Caroline Dinenage and the Home Office minister in the House of Lords, Susan Williams were quizzed by Parliament's home affairs committee on the progress of the Online Harms Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Counter privacy...

Child protection campaigners and companies form trade group to oppose free speech and privacy arguments


Link Here27th April 2020
Online technology companies have joined to form a trade group to promote the case for child protection as the Government's Online Harms internet censorship bill works its way through parliament.

The Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA) launched at Leeds Digital Festival April 27, 2020 and brings together companies who operate in the field of online safety.

Initiated by Edinburgh-based Cyan Forensics and PUBLIC, 14 separate tech companies have joined. Members include Yoti, Crisp, Securium, Super Awesome and Safe To Net.

The group says that one of its aims is to counter free speech and privacy arguments that hit a chord with the public in press coverage of the aborted age verification censorship measures included in the government's Digital Economy Act. The group states on its website:

Too often the debate about Online Safety is focused around what cannot be done, what is technically impossible, and the conflict with other rights such as privacy and freedom of speech. We seek to provide an alternative voice in the debate.

The UK government as welcomed the launch and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and NSPCC are also supporting the group. Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:

We are determined to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online and have set out world-leading proposals to put a duty of care on online companies, enforced by an independent regulator. We are backing the industry to support our work by developing new products to improve online security and drive growth in the digital economy. This new association will help bring together relevant organisations to collaborate, innovate and create a safer online world.

 

 

On the wrong wavelength...

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ofcom's unevidenced refutation

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

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

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

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


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