Archive for the ‘UK Government Censorship’ Category

The right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other must be protected.

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Humanist Society Scotland logo A joint open letter from over 20 individuals and organisations highlights their concerns over the impact on artistic expression and free expression of the draft Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.The letter co-ordinated by Humanist Society Scotland has support from authors Val McDermid, Chirs Brookmyre and Alan Bissett alongside arts administrators Dame Seona Reid and the artistic director of Dundee Rep, Andrew Paton. They join Cartoonists Rights International and academics such as Prof AC Grayling and Prof Timothy Garden Ash alongside many others.

The letter reads:

We represent a diverse group of individuals and organisations concerned about the impact on freedom of expression of the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill as currently drafted.

We welcome the provisions to consolidate existing aggravated hate crimes and the repeal of the blasphemy law.

However, the Bill creates stirring up offences without any intent being examined; merely that the words, action, or artwork might do so. This offence could even be applied to being in possession of materials produced by someone else, where sharing the material could stir up hatred.

The unintended consequences of this well meaning Bill risk stifling freedom of expression, and the ability to articulate or criticise religious and other beliefs.

As currently worded, the Bill could frustrate rational debate and discussion which has a fundamental role in society including in artistic endeavour. The arts play a key part in shaping Scotland’s identity in addition to being a significant economic contributor.

The right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other must be protected to allow an artistic and democratic society to flourish.

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
Scottish PEN
Index on Censorship
Chris Brookmyre, Novelist
Val McDermid, Writer
Elaine C Smith, Actor and Comedian
Dame Seona Reid, Arts Administrator
Alan Bissett, Playwright and Novelist
Ruth Wishart, Journalist and Broadcaster
Andrew Panton, Artistic Director Dundee Rep / Joint CEO Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre Ltd
Prof. Maggie Kinloch, Theatre Director & Chair Humanist Society Scotland
Ariane Sherine, Comedian and Journalist
Joan Smith, Journalist, novelist, and human rights activist
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Rowan Atkinson, Comedian
Prof. A C Grayling, Philosopher and Author
Prof. Timothy Garton Ash, Historian and author of Free Speech
Nick Ross, Television and Radio Presenter
Terry Anderson, Executive Director, Cartoonists Rights Network International
Gary McLelland, Chief Executive, Humanists International
Michael Connarty, Former MP and former Chair of Parliamentary Humanist Group
Dr Evan Harris, Former MP and former Vice-Chair of Parliamentary Humanist Group
Quilliam Foundation

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labour party logo More censorship legislation is needed to protect people online after social media giants’ failure to tackle hate speech on their websites, claims the Labour Party.Jo Stevens, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, claimed the UK desperately needed legislation forcing platforms to act because self-regulation isn’t working.

The Labour party is accusing the Government of delaying the introduction of an online harms bill to protect Internet users. It comes after politicians and campaigners condemned Twitter for being too slow to remove anti-Semitic tweets by rapper Wiley.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he has written to Instagram and Twitter to make it clear that they need to act immediately to remove social media posts that Labour does not like.

With a disgraceful new bill whose public consultation has just closed

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scottish-government logo A public consultation has closed on changes to Scotland’s hate crime laws that will diminish free speech even further.The plans to make it a criminal offence to stir up hatred, criticise or insult anyone based on their age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

The bill will massively step up the definitions of what people are not allowed to stay lest it be considered insulting to easily offended identity groups, particularly sensitive religions. The bill also extends from people’s words into the possession of material that might be considered critical of sensitive identity groups.

The disgraceful bill has been opposed by many particularly the most effected, like newspapers.

Opposition to the bill has united the Catholic Church and the National Secular Society in opposition to the plans – along with academics, playwrights and newspaper columnists who all say they fear the proposed legislation will pose a threat to their freedom of speech. For example comedians could become too frightened to dare make a joke about a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman walking into a bar.

The public were invited to make their views known to the Scottish parliament’s justice committee before midnight on 24 July.

Amanda Millar, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said:

It was right that laws provide a clear message that hatred should have no place in our society. However, we have significant reservations regarding a number of the bill’s provisions and the lack of clarity, which could in effect lead to restrictions in freedom of expression, one of the foundations of a democratic society. We have real concerns that certain behaviour, views expressed or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the bill as currently drafted.

Scottish Labour criticised the offence of stirring up hatred and accused ministers of failing to learn the lessons of the repealed Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. The party’s justice spokesman James Kelly said:

There is a significant divergence from similar law in England and Wales where intent is required for a person to be criminalised for behaviour which another finds insulting. Under the current proposals, the law here would not require this intent to be present – which sets an alarming legal precedent and could result in the criminalisation of expressions of religious views.

In its submission to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, the Scottish Newspaper Society warned that it contained highly dangerous measures which pose a serious threat to freedom of expression in its broadest sense. The organisation’s director, John McLellan, said it had the potential to provoke a string of vexatious complaints against journalists and columnists, which could then lead to police investigations. He raised further concerns about provisions against communicating insulting material:

It would also be an offence to distribute it, which potentially could see newspaper delivery boys and girls, or shops, fall foul of the law.

Allowing courts to direct the destruction of material had echoes of darker times and could lead to the banning of books or censorship of the internet, he warned.

He added that JK Rowling, who has recently faced a deluge of criticism from transgender rights activists after she expressed her views online, would almost certainly have seen her subjected to a police investigation had the proposed law been in force.

Problem gamblers seek to recover their losses…

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old bailey lady of justice A coalition of age verification companies have won the first round of their legal action against the Government in a bid to force ministers to introduce a shelved internet porn censorship scheme that would provide the companies with an income.The companies launched an appeal last year, saying they developed software that was never used.A judge ruled that age verification companies, backed by children’s charities, have an arguable case that the Culture Secretary exceeded her powers by deciding not to implement the ban, which had been voted for by Parliament .

The ruling means the claimants can now take the case to a judicial review, which could overturn the Government’s decision.

Plans to introduce an age verification scheme were shelved in October last year, perhaps because the law did not provide any provision for keep very dangerous ID and porn browsing data private and safe. At the time, ministers said the age verification scheme as defined in the Digital Economy Act 2017 would be superceded by forthcoming Duty of Care legislation.

In court, the Government argued that ministers had not exceeded their powers and that circumstances had radically altered since the porn ban legislation was originally passed.

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house of lords red logo 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-à-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.

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home affairs committee 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.

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scottish government logo Scotland’s government has joined the ranks of many others around the world who are actively working on constraining free speech by amending existing laws to make them even more oppressive than before.The current law restricting ‘hate crimes’ is similar to that in England and Wales, covering threats, abuse, and insults.

But based on what’s described as a hard-line report from 2018, Scotland’s upgraded Hate Crime and Public Order Bill proposed by parliament now looks to change that and introduce three new offences,

  • The first will enable for prosecution of doing anything, or communicating any material, which is threatening or abusive and is intended or likely to engender hatred based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender or intersex identity.
  • Secondly having material of this kind in one’s possession meant to be in any way communicated to others will in itself now be a crime,
  • and thirdly, managers in organizations of any type not acting to prevent the new set of criminalized behaviours will be criminalized themselves.

The proposals’ critics say it is anti-liberal and must not be allowed to pass, pointing out that the bill takes the focus away from punishing acts of hostility based on their gravity regardless of who they target, and instead introduces a tiered approach, depending on groups that are designated as considered more ‘worthy’ of the victimhood status.

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scottish government logo Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf said the blasphemy law in Scotland would be modernised to cover discrimination against religion. Yousaf said the law would also cover discrimination against age, disability, race and sexual orientation. He said:

By creating robust laws for the justice system, parliament will send a strong message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated.

Blasphemy laws were repealed in England and Wales in 2008.

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DCMS logo 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

uckfield fm logo 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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protecting the age of innocence Protecting the age of innocence

Report of the inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs

Executive SUmmary

The Committee’s inquiry considered the potential role for online age verification in protecting children and young people in Australia from exposure to online wagering and online pornography.

Evidence to the inquiry revealed widespread and genuine concern among the community about the serious impacts on the welfare of children and young people associated with exposure to certain online content, particularly pornography.

The Committee heard that young people are increasingly accessing or being exposed to pornography on the internet, and that this is associated with a range of harms to young people’s health, education, relationships, and wellbeing. Similarly, the Committee heard about the potential for exposure to online wagering at a young age to lead to problem gambling later in life.

Online age verification is not a new concept. However, the Committee heard that as governments have sought to strengthen age restrictions on online content, the technology for online age verification has become more sophisticated, and there are now a range of age-verification services available which seek to balance effectiveness and ease-of-use with privacy, safety, and security.

In considering these issues, the Committee was concerned to see that, in so much as possible, age restrictions that apply in the physical world are also applied in the online world.

The Committee recognised that age verification is not a silver bullet, and that protecting children and young people from online harms requires government, industry, and the community to work together across a range of fronts. However, the Committee also concluded that age verification can create a significant barrier to prevent young people—and particularly young children—from exposure to harmful online content.

The Committee’s recommendations therefore seek to support the implementation of online age verification in Australia.

The Committee recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency lead the development of standards for online age verification. These standards will help to ensure that online age verification is accurate and effective, and that the process for legitimate consumers is easy, safe, and secure.

The Committee also recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency develop an age-verification exchange to support a competitive ecosystem for third-party age verification in Australia.

In relation to pornography, the Committee recommended that the eSafety Commissioner lead the development of a roadmap for the implementation of a regime of mandatory age verification for online pornographic material, and that this be part of a broader, holistic approach to address the risks and harms associated with online pornography.

In relation to wagering, the Committee recommended that the Australian Government implement a regime of mandatory age verification, alongside the existing identity verification requirements. The Committee also recommended the development of educational resources for parents, and consideration of options for restricting access to loot boxes in video games, including though the use of age verification.

The Committee hopes that together these recommendations will contribute to a safer online environment for children and young people.

Lastly, the Committee acknowledges the strong public interest in the inquiry and expresses its appreciation to the individuals and organisations that shared their views with the Committee.