Archive for the ‘Internet Blocking’ Category

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open rights group 2016 logo The Digital Economy Bill (DEBill) will require that porn sites verify the age of their users in order to prevent under 18s from viewing pornography. Despite concerns that this will leave porn users vulnerable to hacks and security risks, the Government has failed to amend the Bill so that privacy is written into the legislation. Instead, Codes of Practice will place the responsibility for protecting people’s privacy with porn sites not the companies supplying age verification technology.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

Age verification is an accident waiting to happen. Despite repeated warnings, parliament has failed to listen to concerns about the privacy and security of people who want to watch legal adult content.

As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about people’s sex lives, has huge repercussions for those involved. The UK government has failed to take responsibility for its proposals and placed the responsibility for people’s privacy into the hands of porn companies.

Censorship regime

The Bill will also enable the creation of a censorship regime as the BBFC will be given powers to force ISPs to block legitimate websites without any judicial process. These powers were added to the Bill, when it became apparent that foreign porn sites could not be compelled to apply age verification. During parliamentary scrutiny, they were extended to include other content, not just pornography, raising further concerns about the threat to free speech.

Killock added:

These new powers will put in place a vast system of censorship which could be applied to tens of thousands of adult websites. The BBFC will be under pressure to censor more and more legal content. This is a serious assault on free speech in the UK.

Almost 25,000 ORG supporters signed a petition calling for the Government to reject plans for blocking legal pornography.

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DCMS logoBritain has some ludicrous and dated prohibitions on aspects of porn that are commonplace in international porn sites. For example the government requires that the BBFC cut fisting, squirting, gagging on blow jobs, dialogue references to incest or underage sex.It would be ludicrous to expect all of the worlds websites to remove such commonplace scene from all its films and videos. The originally proposed porn censorship law would require the BBFC to identify sites with this commonplace material, and ISPs would have then been forced to block these sites. Of course this would have meant that more or less all websites would have had to be banned.

Someone has obviously pointed this out to the government, perhaps the Lords had spotted this in their scrutiny.

The Daily Mail is now reporting that this censorship power will be dropped form the Digital Economy Bill. The age verification requirement will stand but foreign websites complying with age verification will not then be blocked for material transgressing some of the stupid UK prohibitions.

A source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that the proposals were imperfect , but said the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which covers sex shops, was too outdated to be used to regulate the internet.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport actually went further and said extreme material, including violent pornography and cartoons depicting child sex abuse, will be allowed to stay online as long as distributors put in place checks to ensure it cannot be viewed by children. (But note that downloading films including what is defined as extreme pornography and cartoon child porn would still be illegal). There will be no change to the capability of the IWF to block child porn (and occasionally, illegal adult porn).

Of course pro-censorship campaigners are not impressed by the lost opportunity for total porn censorship. Helen Lewington, of the morality campaign group Mediawatch-UK, claimed that the decision to allow extreme sites to operate behind the age verification barrier risked giving them a veneer of respectability .  She called on peers to reject the amendments this evening. She added:

We are deeply concerned by the Government’s apparent change of direction. These proposals will permit some forms of violent pornography to be viewed behind age verification checks.

This will unhelpfully allow what is illegal offline to be legally viewed online, and may in the long term lead to some regarding such material as acceptable.’

Pro censorship campaigner John Carr revealed that the government will now be reviewing the rules on what is currently prohibited from UK adult porn. He set out his pro-censorship stall by claiming that reducing censorship for adults would somehow endanger children. He claimed:

In his speech on the Digital Economy Bill, last Monday night in the House of Lords, Lord Ashton referred to the Secretary of State’s announcement in the context of there being a need for a wider discussion about the effects of pornography in society as a whole, not solely in respect of children. I would hope there will be an opportunity to contribute to that aspect of the review. I accept it was never envisaged that the Digital Economy Bill was to be a trigger for a wider debate about what sorts of pornography are more or less acceptable, whether being viewed by children or not. However, just because children cannot view certain types of material that have been put behind an age verification wall, it does not mean that its continued availability to adults does not constitute a threat to children. Such material might encourage, promote or appear to legitimize or condone harmful behaviours which either directly or indirectly put children at risk.

Offsite Comment: Lib Dems lay into the governments censorship efforts

19th March 2017 See  article from libdemvoice.org by Brian Paddick

Lib Dems logoTo add to the list of obnoxious new laws such as the new offence of driving while being a suspected illegal immigrant and giving the police unfettered access to innocent people’s web histories, the Tories have waded into the swamp of online pornography and they are completely out of their depth.

The Digital Economy Bill, another universal answer to everything they couldn’t get through when we had one hand on the reins of power, professes to protect children from online pornography.

Nonetheless, if we are to prohibit access to online adult material unless there is an age-verification solution in place, the privacy of those who are being forced to part with their sensitive personal information in order to verify their age, must be protected. We have already seen user databases for a couple of major porn sites, containing sensitive personal information, being hacked and the details traded on the dark web. When details of users of the Ashley Madison site were leaked, it reportedly led to two suicides.

…read the full  article from libdemvoice.org

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European Parliament logoThe European Parliament has officially adopted the EU Directive on Combatting Terrorism , which is designed to give police and prosecutors across the EU the ability to fight and counter terrorism more effectively and ensure a common response to the evolving terrorist threat. The Directive includes measures against public provocation online , which state that Member States must ensure the prompt removal of online content constituting a public provocation to commit a terrorist offence that is hosted in their territory, and must also endeavour to obtain the removal of such content hosted outside of their territory. If removing the content is not feasible, Member States may block access to the content for internet users within their territory (but only after first attempting to remove the content at source).

The Directive states that such measures of removal and blocking must be set by transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that users are informed of the reason for the restriction. These safeguards must also include the possibility of judicial redress.

Importantly, the Directive also states that removal or blocking of terrorist content should be without prejudice to service providers’ protections under the EU e-Commerce Directive. This means that no general obligation can be imposed on service providers to monitor the information which they transmit or store, nor can they be obliged to actively seek facts or circumstances indicating the presence of terrorist content. Furthermore, hosting service providers will not be held liable for hosting terrorist content as long as they do not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information and are not aware of the facts or circumstances from which the activity or information is apparent. This will be of great relief to Internet intermediaries.

The Directive must now be transposed into national law by Member States within 18 months. However, it will not apply to the UK, Ireland and Denmark who have opted out of such measures.

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open rights group 2016 logo How could the power to block pornographic websites lead to massive censorship, when the BBFC thinks it wants want to censor “just” a few hundred sites.

Officials wrote to the New Statesman yesterday to complain about Myles Jackman’s characterisation of the Digital Economy Bill as leading to an attempt to classify everything on the Internet. (They perhaps hadn’t understood the satire .)

However, the fact of the matter is that the DE Bill gives the BBFC (the regulator, TBC) the power to block any pornographic website that doesn’t use age verification tools. It can even block websites that publish pornography that doesn’t fit their guidelines of taste and acceptability – which are significantly narrower than what is legal, and certainly narrower than what is viewed as acceptable by US websites.

A single video of “watersports” or whipping produces marks, for instance, would be enough for the BBFC to ban a website for every UK adult. The question is, how many sites does the regulator want to block, and how many can it block?

Parliament has been told that the regulator wants to block just a few, major websites, maybe 50 or 100, as an “incentive” to implement age checks. However, that’s not what Clause 23 says. The “Age-verification regulator’s power to direct internet service providers to block access to material” just says that any site that fits the criteria can be blocked by an administrative request.

What could possibly go wrong?

Imagine, not implausibly, that some time after the Act is in operation, one of the MPs who pushed for this power goes and sees how it is working. This MP tries a few searches, and finds to their surprise that it is still possible to find websites that are neither asking for age checks nor blocked.

While the first page or two of results under the new policy would find major porn sites that are checking, or else are blocked, the results on page three and four would lead to sites that have the same kinds of material available to anyone.

In short, what happens when MPs realise this policy is nearly useless?

They will, of course, ask for more to be done. You could write the Daily Mail headlines months in advance: BBFC lets kids watch porn .

MPs will ask why the BBFC isn’t blocking more websites. The answer will come back that it would be possible, with more funding, to classify and block more sites, with the powers the BBFC has been given already. While individual review of millions of sites would be very expensive, maybe it is worth paying for the first five or ten thousand sites to be checked. (And if that doesn’t work, why not use machines to produce the lists?)

And then, it is just a matter of putting more cash the way of the BBFC and they can block more and more sites, to “make the Internet safe”.

That’s the point we are making. The power in the Digital Economy Bill given to the BBFC will create a mechanism to block literally millions of websites; the only real restraint is the amount of cash that MPs are willing to pour into the organisation.

What could possibly go wrong?

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ruth smeethIt is a bit of a fad to berate the social networks for passing on ‘fake news’ and other user posts deemed harmful to politicians and their jobs.Although introduced last year, a nonsense private members bill is now getting a bit of attention for its proposals to demand that social media censors its users posts.

Labour MP Anna Turley’s Malicious Communications (Social Media) Bill, calls for media censor Ofcom to impose fines up to £2 million for social networks who don’t adequately prevent threatening content appearing on their services.

The bill would see social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and likely include apps like Snapchat and Instagram, to be added to a register of regulated platforms by the Secretary of State.

If the bill is passed into law, the companies on the list would be required to implement some sort of age verification blocking system akin to ISP blocking where over verified 18s could opt out of the content blocking.

The core of the bill as follows:

1 Requirements on operators of regulated social media platforms

(1) Operators of social media platforms on the register of regulated social media
platforms in section 5 (1) must have in place reasonable means to prevent
threatening content from being received by users of their service in the United
5 Kingdom during normal use of the service when the users–

(a) access the platforms, and

(b) have not requested the operator to allow the user to use the service
without filtering of threatening content.

(2) Operators must not activate an unfiltered service when requested by the user,
10 unless–

(a) the user has registered as over 18 years of age, and

(b) the request includes an age verification mechanism.

(3) In implementing an age verification mechanism operators must follow
guidance published by the age verification regulator.

(4) 15 In subsection (3), “age verification regulator” has the meaning given by section
17 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.

2 Duties of OFCOM

(1) OFCOM must assist, on request, the Secretary of State to meet his or her duties
in respect of the register of regulated social media platforms.

(2) 20 It shall be the duty of OFCOM to monitor and assess the performance of the
operators of regulated social media platforms in meeting the requirements of
section 1.

3) In order to assess the adequacy of the arrangements of an operator of a
regulated social media platform to meet the requirements of section 1, OFCOM
may —

(a) survey the content of the social media platform, and

(b) 5 derive quantitative data from the operator.

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westminster eforum logoAn interesting article in Wired reports on a a recent Westminster eForum meeting when the British establishment got together to discuss, porn, internet censorship and child protection.A large portion of the article considers the issue that porn is not generally restricted just to ‘porn websites’. It is widely available on more mainstream wesbites such as Google Images. Stephen Winyard, director and VP of ICM Registry and council member of the digital policy alliance, argued that Twitter is in fact commercially benefiting from the proliferation of pornography on the network:

It’s on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, mobile apps – Skype is used hugely for adult content. But Twitter is the largest platform for promoting pornography in the world – and it takes money for it. They pay Twitter money to advertise adult content.

Another good good pint was that the Digital Censorship Bill going through parliament was targetting the prevention of children ‘stumbling across’ porn. Hence a bit of partial blockade of porn may somehow reduce this problem. However Adam Kinsley of Sky pointed out that partial blockage may not be so effective in stopping kids actively looking for porn. He noted:

The Digital Economy Bill’s exact objectives are a little uncertain, but we are trying to stop children stumbling on pornography — but they are not ‘stumbling’, they are looking for it and Twitter is where they will [find] it. Whether what the government is proposing will deal with that threat is unclear. Initially, it did not propose ISPs blocking content. When it comes to extremist sites, the Home Office asks social media platforms to take down content. The government does not ask us to block material – it has never done that. So this is a big deal. It doesn’t happen with the IWF; it doesn’t happen with terrorist material, and it wasn’t in the government’s original proposal. Whether they got it right and how will we deal with these millions of sites, is unclear.

We’re not really achieving anything if only dealing with a few sites.

The Bill is incredibly complex, as it stands. David Austin, from the BBFC, pointed out that for it to implement the bill correctly, it needs to be effective, proportionate, respectful of privacy, accountable – and the

Tens of millions of adults that go online to see legal content must be able to continue to do so.

At the same time, he said:

There is no silver bullet, no one model, no one sector that can achieve all child protection goals.

…Read the full article from wired.co.uk

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house of lords red logo= Europe has voiced legal doubts about the current regime of ISPs defaulting to internet censorship unless subscribers actively choose to opt out of the censorship. So now the government has introduced a new clause into the Digital Censorship Bill currently in the House of Lords explicitly enabling ISP network level website blocking.Thomas Ashton, a minister from the DCMS has tabled the following amendment:

Internet filters

(1) A provider of an internet access service to an end- user may prevent or restrict access on the service to information, content, applications or services, for child protection or other purposes, if the action is in accordance with the terms on which the end- user uses the service.

(2) This section does not affect whether a provider of an internet access service may prevent or restrict access to anything on the service in other circumstances.