Archive for the ‘Internet Blocking’ Category

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mindgeek ageid logoAs the introduction of age verification for websites approaches, it seems that the most likely outcome is that Mindgeek, the company behind most of the tube sites, is set to become the self appointed gatekeeper of porn. Its near monopoly on free porn means that it will be the first port of call for people wanting access, and people who register with them will be able to surf large numbers of porn sites with no verification hassle. And they are then not going to be very willing go through all the hassle again for a company not enrolled in the Mindgeek scheme. Mindgeek is therefore set to become the Amazon,eBay/Google/Facebook of porn.There is another very promising age verification system AVSecure, that sounds way better than Midgeek’s AgeID. AVSecure plans to offer age verification passes from supermarkets and post offices. They will give you a card with a code that requires no further identification whatsoever beyond looking obviously over 25.  18-25 yea olds will have to show ID but it need not be recorded in the system, Adult websites can then check the verification code that will reveal only that the holder is over 18. All website interactions will be further protected by blockchain encryption.

The Mindgeek scheme is the most well promoted for the moment and so is seem as the favourite to prevail. TheDaily Mail is now having doubts about the merits of trusting a porn company with age verification on the grounds that the primary motivation is to make money. The Daily Mail has also spotted that the vast swathes of worldwide porn is nominally held to be illegal by the government under the Obscene Publications Act. Notably female ejaculation is held to be obscene as the government claims it to be illegal because the ejaculate contains urine. I think the government is on a hiding to nothing if it persists in its silly claims of obscenity, they are simply years out of date and the world has move on.

Anyway the Daily Mail spouts:

The moguls behind the world’s biggest pornography websites have been entrusted by the Government with policing the internet to keep it safe for children. MindGeek staff have held a series of meetings with officials in preparation for the new age verification system which is designed to ensure that under-18s cannot view adult material.

Tens of millions of British adults are expected to have to entrust their private details to MindGeek, which owns the PornHub and YouPorn websites.

Critics have likened the company’s involvement to entrusting the cigarette industry with stopping underage smoking and want an independent body to create the system instead.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has found that material on the company’s porn websites could be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act. A search for one sexual act, which would be considered illegal to publish videos of under the Obscene Publications Act, returned nearly 20,000 hits on PornHub. The Mail on Sunday did not watch any of the videos.

Shadow Culture Minister Liam Byrne said:

It is alarming that a company given the job of checking whether viewers of pornography are over 18 can’t even police publication of illegal material on its own platform.

A DCMS spokesman said:

The Government will not be endorsing individual age-verification solutions but they will need to abide by data protection laws to be compliant.

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dcms age verification risk assessment The UK government slipped out its impact assessment of the upcoming porn censorship law during the Christmas break. The new law requires porn websites to be blocked in the UK when they don’t implement age verification.The measures are currently due to come into force in May but it seems a tight schedule as even the rules for acceptable age verification systems have not yet been published.

The report contains some interesting costings and assessment of the expected harms to be inflicted on porn viewers and British adult businesses.

The document notes the unpopularity of the age verification requirements with a public consultation finding that 54% of respondents did not support the introduction of a law to require age verification.

However, the government has forged ahead, with the aim of stopping kids accessing porn on the grounds that such content could distress them or harm their development.

The governments censorship rules will be enforced by the BBFC, in its new role as the UK porn censor although it prefers the descriptor: age-verification regulator . The government states that the censorship job will initially be funded by the government, and the government is assuming this will cost £4.5 million based upon a range of estimates from 1 million to 8 million.

The government has bizarrely assumed that the BBFC will ban just 1 to 60 sites in a year. The additional work for ISPs to block these sites is estimated £100,000 to £500,000 for each ISP. Probably to be absorbed by larger companies, but will be an expensive problem for smaller companies who do not currently implement any blocking systems.

Interestingly the government notes that there wont be any impact on UK adult businesses notionally because they should have already implemented age verification under ATVOD and Ofcom censorship rules. In reality it will have little impact on UK businesses because they have already been decimated by the ATVOD and Ofcom rules and have mostly closed down or moved abroad.

Te key section of the document summarising expected harms is as follows.

The policy option set out above also gives rise to the following risks:

  • Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;
  • Development of alternative payment systems and technological work-arounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be achieved;
  • The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;
  • Reputational risks including Government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
  • The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;
  • The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1%).
  • Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.

The list does not seem to include the potential for blackmail from user data sold by porn firms, or else stolen by hackers. And mischievously, politicians could be one of the groups most open to blackmail for money or favours.

Another notable omission, is that the government does not seem overly concerned about mass VPN usage. I would have thought that the secret services wanting to monitor terrorists would not be pleased if a couple of million people stared to use encrypted VPNs. Perhaps it shows that the likes of GCHQ can already see into what goes on behind VPNs.

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bypass censorship logo A group of international broadcasters have come together to support a new website that aims to help internet users around the world access news and information.The Broadcasting Board of Governors (US), the BBC (UK), Deutsche Welle (Germany) and France M39dias Monde (France) have co-sponsored the Bypass Censorship website: bypasscensorship.org

Bypass Censorship provides internet users information on how to access and download security-conscious tools which will enable them to access news websites and social media blocked by governments.

When governments try to block these circumvention tools, the site is updated with information to help users stay ahead of the censors and maintain access to news sites.

BBG CEO, John F. Lansing said:

The right to seek, and impart, facts and ideas is a universal human right which many repressive governments seek to control. This website presents an incredible opportunity to provide citizens around the world with the resources they need to access a free and open internet for uncensored news and information essential to making informed decisions about their lives and communities.

The broadcasters supporting the Bypass Censorship site are part of the DG7 group of media organisations which are consistent supporters of UN resolutions on media freedom and the safety of journalists.

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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?