Archive for the ‘UK Government Censorship’ Category

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tory manifesto 2017 mock upBuried at the very end of the Conservative election manifesto is a line of text that could have an enormous impact on how Britons use the internet in the future.Conservative advisers suggested to BuzzFeed News that a future Tory government would be keen to rein in the growing power of Google and Facebook.

The proposals — dotted around the manifesto document — are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it’s a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks.

Legislation would be introduced to ‘protect’ the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives — potentially echoing the government’s Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government.

The Manifesto states:

Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline.

It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically.

New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.

A levy on tech companies — similar to that charged on gambling companies — would also be used to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms. The Conservatives even see this model going further, announcing their desire to work with other countries develop a global set of internet regulation standards similar to those we have for so long benefited from in other areas like banking and trade.

May’s manifesto also raises concerns about online news, warning it is willing to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy, while pledging to ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online.

On a more positive note, the Conservative party manifesto contained one significantly welcome provision, which was that the party would not proceed with implementing the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, and would repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 — both measures that RSF has campaigned for. RSF and other free expression groups viewed Section 40 as threatening to press freedom, particularly its cost-shifting provision that, if implemented, could have held publishers that did not join the state-approved regulator liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit.

In contrast, both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos stated that the parties would disgracefully move forward with the unjust stage two of the Leveson Inquiry.

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open rights group 2016 logo A Freedom of Information request to the DCMS has revealed that porn company MindGeek suggested that the BBFC should potentially block millions of porn sites if they didn’t comply with Age Verification requirements outlined in the Digital Economy Act.

MindGeek, who are also developing Age Verification technology, said that the Government’s plans to prevent children from seeing pornography would not be effective unless millions of sites could be blocked.

Notes made by the company and sent to the DCMS state:

A greylist of 4M URLs already exists from Sky, but lets assume that’s actually much smaller as these URLs will I suspect, be page- level blocks, not TLDs. The regulator should contact them all within that 12 months, explaining that if they do not demonstrate they are AV ready by the enforcement date then they will be enforced against. “On the enforcement date, all sites on the greylist turn black or white depending upon what they have demonstrated to the regulator.

Corey Price, VP of Pornhub, separately noted:

It is our corporate responsibility as part of the global tech community to promote ethical and responsible behavior. We firmly believe that parents are best placed to police their children’s online activity using the plethora of tools already available in modern operating systems. The law has the potential to send a message to parents that they no longer need to monitor their children’s online activity, so it is therefore essential that the Act is robustly enforced.

Despite the law, those seeking adult content can still circumvent age verification using simple proxy/VPN services. Consequently the intent of the legislation is to only protect children who stumble across adult content in an un-protected environment. There are over 4 million domains containing adult content, and unless sites are enforced against equally, stumbling across adult content will be no harder than at present. If the regulator pursues a proportionate approach we may only see the Top 50 sites being effected 203 this is wholly unacceptable as the law will then be completely ineffective, and simply discriminate against compliant sites. We are therefore informing, and closely monitoring the development of the regulations, to be published later this year, to see if they achieve the intended goals of the Act.

MindGeek could stand to gain commercially if competitor websites are blocked from UK visitors, or if the industry takes up their Age Verification product.

Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said:

There is nothing in the Act to stop the BBFC from blocking 4.6 million pornographic websites. The only constraint is cash.

This leaves the BBFC wide open to pressure for mass website blocking without any need for a change in the law.

When giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee , the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification, David Austin implied that only tens of sites would be targeted:

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.

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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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Raynic X The Premier League has secured a court order to help tackle rights-infringing video streams of football matches via Kodi set-top boxes. The order gives the league the means to have computer servers used to power the streams blocked.Until now, it could only go after individual video streams which were relatively easy to re-establish at different links.

There have been several arrests of people selling set-top boxes pre-installed with both Kodi software and additional third-party add-ons that make it possible to watch copyright-infringing film and TV streams.

According to a recent survey commissioned by the security firm Irdeto, Kodi boxes are particularly prevalent in the UK.

It reported that 11% of Brits that admitted to watching pirated streams in a survey said they did so via a Kodi box. Doing so is not thought to be illegal. Derbyshire County Council trading standards officers recently explained:

Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws,

That might seem a surprising position for an enforcement department to take, but support for it comes from an authoritative quarter. The European Commission doesn’t believe that consumers who watch pirate streams are infringing. From the user’s perspective they equate streaming to watching, which is legitimate. The European Commission gave its view during the hearing of an important case currently before Europe’s highest court involving the Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN, which wrote in its summary of the hearing:

The case concerns the sale of a mediaplayer on which the trader has loaded add-ons that link to evidently illegal websites that link to content. For a user such a player is plug & play . This king of pre-programmed player usually are offered with slogans like never pay again for the newest films and series and completely legal, downloading from illegal sources is prohibited but streaming is allowed . In summary the pre-judicial questions concern whether the seller of such a mediaplayer infringes copyright and whether streaming from an illegal source is legitimate use.

It has also been reported that the UK government is considering new laws against streaming pirated content, but discussions are at an early stage

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open rights group 2016 logo Ten years jail for filesharing: or in fact any minor copyright infringement where there is a loss by not getting what one might get or cause a risk of further infringement.Clause 27 of the Digital Economy Bill will mean that more or less any wrongful use where somebody hasn’t paid a licence fee (think of memes) is a crime. Causing “risk” to the copyright holder means almost by definition ordinary file sharing is a criminal rather than civil infringement.

Is the government really intending to threaten teenagers with prison? Why has the Digital Economy Bill been left with such a stupid legal change? Both the government and the Intellectual Property Office said they just wanted to bring online infringement into line with “real world” fake DVD offences. They were worried about the difficulties with charging people who run websites that help people download copyright works.

However, that isn’t how they offence is drawn up: and the government has now been told in Parliament twice that they are both criminalising minor infringements and helping copyright trolls. Copryight trolls, we should remember, specialise in threats concerning file sharing of niche pornographic works in order to frighten and embarass people into payment, often incorrectly, and to our knowledge, have never taken anyone to court in the UK .

The answers have been startlingly bad. Kevin Brennan stated , for Labour:

The Open Rights Group has expressed concern about the Government’s insistence that there needs to be “reason to believe” that infringement will cause loss or “the risk of loss”. Its fear is that that phrase, “the risk of loss”, could capture quite a wide range of behaviour, perhaps beyond the scope of what the Government say they intend. In particular, its concern is the extent to which that phrase will capture file sharing.

Copyright trolls get their profits when a certain number of people are scared enough to respond to those notifications and pay up. Frequently these accusations are incorrect, misleading and sent to account holders who did not sanction any such further file sharing. However, as I understand it, sending that kind of speculative threat to consumers is, unfortunately, perfectly legal. Some are concerned that if the Bill retains the concept of risk of loss, it could aid the trolls by enabling them to argue with more credibility that account holders may face criminal charges and a 10-year prison sentence.

Matt Hancock gave a non-answer:

We recognise that the maximum sentence of 10 years, even if only for the most serious cases, must be carefully targeted. Consequently, clause 26 also makes changes to the existing offence of online copyright infringement to make it clearer when that offence is committed and who should be considered liable. The amendments speak to some of those points.

The concept of prejudicial effect in the existing legislation will be replaced with a requirement that the infringer intends to make a monetary gain for themselves or knows or has reason to believe their actions will expose the rights holder to a loss or risk of loss in money. I will come to the debate around definition of that in more detail.

The point of this clarification is to act as a safeguard to ensure that the increased maximum penalty is applied only to serious criminals who deserve it and will not apply to those who share material accidently or without knowledge of the consequences.

In the Lords, Labour suggested returning to the current definition of “prejudicial effect”: which (as Matt Hancock says) suffers the same problem of being very wide and catching people it should not.

The government have failed to give any serious answers. The Opposition, Labour and Liberal Democrat should be able to see that an egregious mistake is being made, and they have the ability to force a change.

The problem is really easily fixed. The government simply need to put in thresholds to ensure that only significant damage or serious risk is caused. We have an amendment prepared and published.

Why does the government want to help copyright trolls bully grannies and criminalise file sharers whose actions may be idiotic, but hardly criminal? The government needs to fix this before it becomes law and abuse of copyright ensues.

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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?