Archive for the ‘Parliament’ Category

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House of Commons logo The House of Commons approved the upcoming internet porn censorship scheme to be implemented by the BBFC from about Easter 2019.The debate was set for 3 sections to approve each of the 3 documents defining the BBFC censorship guidelines. Each was allotted 90 minutes for a detailed debate on how the BBFC would proceed. However following a Brexit debate the debate was curtailed to a single 90 minute session covering all 3 sections.

It didn’t matter much as the debate consisted only of MPs with a feminist agenda saying how the scope of the censorship didn’t go far enough. Even the government spokeswoman leading the debate didn’t understand why the rules didn’t go further in extending sites being censored to social media; and why the range of porn to be banned outright wasn’t more extensive.

Hardly a word said was relevant to the topic of examining the BBFC guidelines.  Issues of practicality, privacy, the endangerment of porn viewers from fraud, outing and blackmail are clearly of no interest to MPs.

The MPs duly nodded their approval of the BBFC regime and so it will soon be announced when the censorship will commence.

The age verification service provider was quick to follow up with a press release extolling the virtues of its porn viewing card approach. Several newspapers obliging published articles using it, eg  See  Porn sites ‘will all require proof of age from April 2019’ — here’s how it’ll work from metro.co.uk

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House of Commons logo There’s a joint committee to scrutinise laws passed in parliament via Statutory Instruments. These are laws that are not generally presented to parliament for discussion, and are passed by default unless challenged.The committee has now taken issue with a DCMS law to excuse the likes of social media and search engines from requiring age verification for any porn images that may get published on the internet. The committee reports from a session on 21st November 2018 that the law was defective and ‘makes an unexpected use of the enabling power’. Presumably this means that the DCMS has gone beyond the scope of what can be passed without full parliamentary scrutiny.

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home affairs committee Age Verification and adult internet censorship was discussed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on 13th November 2018.

Carol Monaghan Committee Member: The Digital Economy Act made it compulsory for commercial pornography sites to undertake age verification, but implementation has been subject to ongoing delays. When do we expect it to go live?

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries: We can expect it to be in force by Easter next year. I make that timetable in the knowledge that we have laid the necessary secondary legislation before Parliament. I am hopeful of getting a slot to debate it before Christmas, before the end of the year. We have always said that we will permit the industry three months to get up to speed with the practicalities and delivering the age verification that it will be required to deliver by law. We have also had to set up the regulator–well, not to set it up, but to establish with the British Board of Film Classification , which has been the regulator, exactly how it will work. It has had to consult on the methods of age verification, so it has taken longer than I would have liked, but I would balance that with a confidence that we have got it right.

Carol Monaghan: Are you confident that the commercial pornography companies are going to engage fully and will implement the law as you hope?

Margot James: I am certainly confident on the majority of large commercial pornography websites and platforms being compliant with the law. They have engaged well with the BBFC and the Department , and want to be on the right side of the law. I have confidence, but I am wary of being 100% confident, because there are always smaller and more underground platforms and sites that will seek ways around the law. At least, that is usually the case. We will be on the lookout for that, and so will the BBFC. But the vast majority of organisations have indicated that they are keen to comply with the legislation.

Carol Monaghan: One concern that we all have is that children can stumble across pornography. We know that on social media platforms, where children are often active, up to a third of their content can be pornographic, but they fall outside the age verification regulation because it is only a third and not the majority. Is that likely to undermine the law? Ultimately the law, as it stands, is there to safeguard our children.

Margot James: I acknowledge that that is a weakness in the legislative solution. I do not think that for many mainstream social media platforms as much of a third of their content is pornographic, but it is well known that certain social media platforms that many people use regularly have pornography freely available. We have decided to start with the commercial operations while we bring in the age verification techniques that have not been widely used to date. But we will keep a watching brief on how effective those age verification procedures turn out to be with commercial providers and will keep a close eye on how social media platforms develop in terms of the extent of pornographic material, particularly if they are platforms that appeal to children–not all are. You point to a legitimate weakness, on which we have a close eye.

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house of lords red logo Elspeth Howe’s Online Safety Bill has passed its committee stage in the House of Lords.The Bill to impose the ISP filtering on all UK ISPS, to require robust age verification for adult websites and to extended this to overseas sites, was widely praised by peers. However the government noted that it would be introducing its own bill to cover these areas next year and would not therefore be supporting Howe’s bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Joanna Shields) summarised the government’s position:

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, and I state one more time that there is no ambiguity about the Government’s commitment to launch the consultation shortly after the new year, and to provide for a robust age verification system to ensure that no one under the age of 18 can access pornographic material in the UK. It is a process that has been going on. We have been seeking advice from experts since the manifesto commitment was announced and we are consulting early in the new year. We are 100% committed to that.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his contributions and for his extraordinary work in leading the development of solutions that will in fact achieve our goal. Many elements of the Bill are incredibly well thought-out and well intentioned, and they will be taken on board in the resulting legislative approach that we take in the new year. This is about timing. This clause requires that the Secretary of State must identify a licensing authority for non UK-based pornographic services, and the noble Baroness’s amendment to the clause specifies that the Secretary of State needs a second independent body to conduct appeals. It is a very good suggestion, but it is a bit premature until we finish the consultation.

Regarding the Ofcom/ATVOD role, there is some confusion about the function of ATVOD continuing, but following an Ofcom review, it was publicly announced in October that from January next year Ofcom will take sole responsibility for regulating video on-demand programme services. As a result, it will not continue its co-regulatory arrangement with ATVOD. Let us be clear on this: it is continuing with the function and the obligation of ATVOD, but that is being brought into the Ofcom portfolio.

Earlier in the debate, The Earl of Erroll made an interesting contribution by that privacy implications mean that the age verification approach used by the gambling industry is not applicable to porn sites.

Lord Framlingham:

I am sorry to keep picking the noble Earl’s brain, but for the purposes of today’s debate, is there any intrinsic difference between the gambling industry and the pornography industry?

The Earl of Erroll:

Yes, there is, interestingly enough. It is to do with the law. Because of anti-money laundering, the gambling industry has to do client checks; it has to behave almost as if it were a bank. As a result, companies have to be able to prove the identity of the person. For various social reasons, it is felt that it is unfair for people to have to declare their identity publicly if they are looking at adult content which it is perfectly legal to watch, or buying alcohol and so on. For instance, if a Muslim buys alcohol and the mosque gets to know about it because their identity had to be declared and retained publicly, they might suffer greatly. Equally, if a Cabinet Minister happens to view some pornography or adult material, that is perfectly legal but, if certain newspapers were to find out, the Minister’s career would be destroyed overnight. This is the challenge and the difference. We have to remember that this stuff is legal for the over-18s, but there are social pressures and public opinion, which we may or may not agree with, so I think that we have to protect people’s privacy.

Lord Framlingham:

I am sorry to ask again. The example that has been given mentions embarrassment, but it is not technically illegal.

The Earl of Erroll:

The example I have given is one that is career-destroying. The knock-on effect of that could involve all sorts of family repercussions to do with children in school because Daddy or Mummy has just had their career destroyed. We sometimes forget the effect on a family as the result of something that, while it may be regarded by some as socially unacceptable, is perfectly legal. We need to think about that at the parliamentary level.

The bill now moves on to the House of Lords report stage which has not yet been scheduled.

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House of Commons logo Early day motion 605

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 (S.I., 2014, No. 2916), dated 4 November 2014, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6 November, be annulled.

Primary sponsor: Julian Huppert
Sponsors: John Leech and Mike Hancock

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House of Commons logo This is a briefing we ( prostitutescollective.net ) haveprepared against a clause to the Modern Slavery Bill which aims tocriminalise sex workers’ clients.Please send your objections (model letter below) to the clause as soon as possible. It will be discussed next Tuesday 4 November in the Report Stage of the Bill. Please send letters to the Chair of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee   Frank Field MP the rest of the committee and to  John McDonnell MP .

Briefing against clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.

An amendment and two clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP aim to make the purchase of sex illegal, remove the criminal sanctions against prostituted women and provide support to women who want to leave prostitution .

We support the amendment which would remove the offence of loitering and soliciting for women working on the street . This decriminalisation should be extended to sex workers working from premises. The brothel-keeping legislation should be amended so that women can work more safely together. In 2006, the Home Office acknowledged: . . . the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.

We strongly oppose the clauses criminalising clients , on the basis of women’s safety. Criminalising clients does not stop prostitution, nor does it stop the criminalisation of women. It drives prostitution further underground, making it more dangerous and stigmatising for women.

Any benefit from decriminalising loitering and soliciting will be cancelled if clients are criminalised. Women will have to go underground if clients are underground. Kerb-crawling legislation has already made it more dangerous for prostitute women and men. In Scotland, since kerb-crawling legislation was introduced in October 2007, the number of assaults on sex workers have soared. Attacks reported to one project almost doubled in one year from 66 to 126.

Many of the claims that have been made about the impact of the 1999 Swedish law which criminalised clients are false and have no evidential basis.

  1. The Swedish law has not resulted in a reduction in sex trafficking.

  2. The Swedish law has not reduced prostitution.

  3. Since the criminalisation of clients the treatment of sex workers in Sweden has worsened. (Please see Appendix for examples).

  4. Evidence from sex workers has been ignored.

  5. The criminalisation of clients increases women’s vulnerability to violence.

  6. The Safety First Coalition formed after the murder of five women in Ipswich opposes the criminalisation of clients.

  7. Claims that prostitution is an extreme form of exploitation are counterproductive and ignore the economic reality that many women face.

  8. An unholy alliance with homophobic religious fundamentalists.

  9. Racist implementation

  10. The successful New Zealand model has been ignoredexamples being ignored?

  11. The public support decriminalisation of prostitution on grounds of safety

  12. The criminalisation of clients has been rejected in Scotland [31] and in France.

…Read the full article

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house of lords red logo The House of Lords Select Committee on Communication have published a report on social media offences. The committeemore or less finds that general law on harassment and malicious communication etc aresufficient to cover the social media world. However the lords worryingly suggest that unanimous messagingshould not be allowed with the onus on websites to verify ID before allowing users to post content or messages.  The report introduces itself as follows:

Legislation currently in existence, including the Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, along with the guidelines for applying them published by the Director of Public Prosecutions, are enough to ensure that criminal offences committed using social media can be adequately prosecuted, says the House of Lords Communications Committee in its new report.

However, the Committee is calling for more clarity from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as to when an indecent communication (e.g. revenge porn ) could — and should — be subject to prosecution under existing powers. It is also encouraging website operators such as Facebook and Twitter to speed up requests for identification of users from our law enforcement agencies, using powers already granted by Parliament. The Committee is also calling for better statistics on the balance of offences committed online and by traditional means, as well as the number of offences that are actually reported.

And the more detail conclusions are:

(a) the criminal law in this area, almost entirely enacted before the invention of social media, is generally appropriate for the prosecution of offences committed using the social media;

(b) there are aspects of the current statute law which might appropriately be adjusted and certain gaps which might be filled. We are not however persuaded that it is necessary to create a new set of offences specifically for acts committed using the social media and other information technology;

(c) the Director of Public Prosecutions’ guidance for prosecutions involving communications sent using social media appropriately takes account of freedom of expression;

(d) what is not an offence off-line should not be an offence online. There is no specific criminal offence of bullying. We consider that the current range of offences, notably those found in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, is sufficient to prosecute bullying conducted using social media. Similarly, sending a communication which is grossly offensive and has the purpose of causing distress or anxiety is an offence under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Although we understand that trolling causes offence, we do not see a need to create a specific and more severely punished offence for this behaviour;

(e) we would welcome clarification from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to the circumstances in which an indecent communication could and should be subject to prosecution under section 127 of the Communications act 2003 or section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988;

(f) due to the frequent need to obtain evidence from abroad, it would be proportionate to extend the period for the investigation of offences committed using social media to be tried in a magistrates’ court to be extended from 6 to 12 months;

(g) a number of statutes passed before the invention of the internet refer to publications in terms only of print media. For example, section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 restricts reporting by newspapers in relation to children involved in criminal proceedings: electronic communications and social media are not caught; we believe they should be;

(h) there are often calls to increase the severity of sentence available for the punishment of these sorts of offences. We favour increasing the courts’ discretion in this area but we would be reluctant for Parliament to require more cases to be tried in the Crown Court (i.e. judge and jury as opposed to magistrates), due to the implications for workload. Any increase in flexibility should be carefully monitored and the proportionality of the consequences considered;

(i) from our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement;

(j) from our perspective, the only way to resolve questions of jurisdiction and access to communications data would be by international treaty. The question is relevant to many more areas of the law and public protection than criminal offences committed using social media and is politically contentious in most countries. This raises issues beyond the scope of this inquiry.