Archive for the ‘Internet Censorship’ Category

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arms of the british governmentjpg logo It will be an offence to view terrorist material online just once — and could incur a prison sentence of up to 15 years — under a new UK law.The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill has just been granted Royal Assent, updating a previous Act and bringing new powers to law enforcement to tackle terrorism.

But a controversial inclusion was to update the offence of obtaining information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism so that it now covers viewing or streaming content online.

Originally, the proposal had been to make it an offence for someone to view material three or more times — but the three strikes idea has been dropped from the final Act.

The government said that the existing laws didn’t capture the nuance in changing methods for distribution and consumption of terrorist content — and so added a new clause into the 2019 Act making it an offence to view (or otherwise access) any terrorist material online. This means that, technically, anyone who clicked on a link to such material could be caught by the law.

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open rights group 2016 logo There is every reason to believe that the government and opposition are moving to a consensus on introducing a duty of care for social media companies to reduce harm and risk to their users. This may be backed by an Internet regulator, who might decide what kind of mitigating actions are appropriate to address the risks to users on different platforms.

This idea originated from a series of papers by Will Perrin and Lorna Woods and has been mentioned most recently in a recent Science and Technology committee report and by NGOs including children’s charity 5Rights.

A duty of care has some obvious merits: it could be based on objective risks, based on evidence, and ensure that mitigations are proportionate to those risks. It could take some of the politicisation out of the current debate.

However, it also has obvious problems. For a start, it focuses on risk rather than process . It moves attention away from the fact that interventions are regulating social media users just as much as platforms. It does not by itself tell us that free expression impacts will be considered, tracked or mitigated.

Furthermore, the lack of focus that a duty of care model gives to process means that platform decisions that have nothing to do with risky content are not necessarily based on better decisions, independent appeals and so on. Rather, as has happened with German regulation, processes can remain unaffected when they are outside a duty of care.

In practice, a lot of content which is disturbing or offensive is already banned on online platforms. Much of this would not be in scope under a duty of care but it is precisely these kinds of material which users often complain about, when it is either not removed when they want it gone, or is removed incorrectly. Any model of social media regulation needs to improve these issues, but a duty of care is unlikely to touch these problems.

There are very many questions about the kinds of risk, whether to individual in general, vulnerable groups, or society at large; and the evidence required to create action. The truth is that a duty of care, if cast sensibly and narrowly, will not satisfy many of the people who are demanding action; equally, if the threshold to act is low, then it will quickly be seen to be a mechanism for wide-scale Internet censorship.

It is also a simple fact that many decisions that platforms make about legal content which is not risky are not the business of government to regulate. This includes decisions about what legal content is promoted and why. For this reason, we believe that a better approach might be to require independent self-regulation of major platforms across all of their content decisions. This requirement could be a legislative one, but the regulator would need to be independent of government and platforms.

Independent self-regulation has not been truly tried. Instead, voluntary agreements have filled its place. We should be cautious about moving straight to government regulation of social media and social media users. The government refuses to regulate the press in this way because it doesn’t wish to be seen to be controlling print media. It is pretty curious that neither the media nor the government are spelling out the risks of state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens.

That we are in this place is of course largely the fault of the social media platforms themselves, who have failed to understand the need and value of transparent and accountable systems to ensure they are acting properly. That, however, just demonstrates the problem: politically weak platforms who have created monopoly positions based on data silos are now being sliced and diced at the policy table for their wider errors. It’s imperative that as these government proposals progress we keep focus on the simple fact that it is end users whose speech will ultimately be regulated.

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DCMS logo Wrangling in Whitehall has held up plans to set up a social media censor dubbed Ofweb, The Mail on Sunday reveals.The Government was due to publish a White Paper this winter on censorship of tech giants but this Mail has learnt it is still far from ready. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said it would be published within a month, but a Cabinet source said that timeline was wholly unrealistic. Other senior Government sources went further and said the policy document is unlikely to surface before the Spring.

Key details on how a new censor would work have yet to be decided while funding from the Treasury has not yet been secured. Another problem is that some Ministers believe the proposed clampdown is too draconian and are preparing to try to block or water down the plan.

There are also concerns that technically difficult requirements would benefit the largest US companies as smaller European companies and start ups would not be able to afford the technology and development required.

The Mail on Sunday understands Jeremy Wright has postponed a visit to Facebook HQ in California to discuss the measures, as key details are still up in the air.

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arms of the british governmentjpg logo The U.K. government is rushing to finalize a draft internet censorship law particularly targeting social media but key details of the proposal have yet to be finalised amid concerns about stifling innovation.Government officials have been meeting with industry players, MPs, peers and other groups over the past month as they try to finalise their proposals.

People involved in those discussions said there is now broad agreement about the need to impose a new duty of care on big tech companies, as well as the need to back up their terms and conditions with the force of law.

A white paper is due be published by the end of winter. But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is partly responsible for writing up the new rules alongside the Home Office, is still deliberating over key aspects with just weeks to go until the government said it would unveil an outline of its proposals.

Among the sticking points are worries that regulation could stifle innovation in one of the U.K. economy’s most thriving sectors and concerns over whether it can keep pace with rapid technological change. Another is ensuring sufficient political support to pass the law despite likely opposition from parts of the Conservative Party. A third is deciding what regulatory agency would ultimately be responsible for enforcing the so-called Internet Safety Law.

A major unresolved question is what censorship body will be in charge of enforcing laws that could expose big tech companies to greater liability for hosted content, a prospect that firms including Google and Facebook have fought at the European level.

Several people who spoke to POLITICO said the government does not appear to have settled on who would be the censor, although the communications regulator Ofcom is very much in the mix, however there are concerns that Ofcom is already getting too big.

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UKCCIS logo The Government has announced the organisations that will sit on the Executive Board of a new national body to tackle online harms in the UK. The UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) is the successor to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), with an expanded scope to improve online safety for everyone in the UK.

The Executive Board brings together expertise from a range of organisations in the tech industry, civil society and public sector.

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries said:

Only through collaborative action will the UK be the safest place to be online. By bringing together a wealth of expertise from a wide range of fields, UKCIS can be an example to the world on how we can work together to face the challenges of the digital revolution in an effective and responsible way.

UKCIS has been established to allow these organisations to collaborate and coordinate a UK-wide approach to online safety.

It will contribute to the Government’s commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, and will help to inform the development of the forthcoming Online Harms White Paper.

Priority areas of focus will include online harms experienced by children such as cyberbullying and sexual exploitation; radicalisation and extremism; violence against women and girls; hate crime and hate speech; and forms of discrimination against groups protected under the Equality Act, for example on the basis of disability or race.

CEO of Internet Matters Carolyn Bunting said:

We are delighted to sit on the Executive Board of UKCIS where we are able to represent parents needs in keeping their children safe online.

Online safety demands a collaborative approach and by bringing industry together we hope we can bring about real change and help everyone benefit from the opportunities the digital world has to offer.

The UKCIS Executive Board consists of the following organisations:

  • Apple
  • BBC
  • Childnet
  • Children’s Commissioner
  • Commission for Countering Extremism
  • End Violence Against Women Coalition
  • Facebook
  • GCHQ
  • Google
  • ICO
  • Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime
  • Internet Matters
  • Internet Watch Foundation
  • Internet Service Providers and Mobile Operators (rotating between BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media, Vodafone)
  • Microsoft
  • National Police Chiefs’ Council
  • National Crime Agency – CEOP Command
  • Northern Ireland Executive
  • NSPCC
  • Ofcom
  • Parentzone
  • Scottish Government
  • TechUK
  • Twitter
  • UKCIS Evidence Group Chair
  • UKIE
  • Welsh Assembly

The UKCIS Executive Board is jointly chaired by Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport); Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability (Home Office); and Nadeem Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families (Department for Education). It also includes representatives from the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Board membership will be kept under periodic review, to ensure it represents the full range of online harms that the government seeks to tackle.

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arms of the british governmentjpg logo The UK government is preparing to establish a new internet censor that would make tech firms liable for content published on their platforms and have the power to sanction companies that fail to take down illegal material and hate speech within hours.Under legislation being drafted by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) due to be announced this winter, a new censorship framework for online social harms would be created.

BuzzFeed News has obtained details of the proposals, which would see the establishment of an internet censor similar to Ofcom.

Home secretary Sajid Javid and culture secretary Jeremy Wright are considering the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for social media platforms and strict new rules such as takedown times forcing websites to remove illegal hate speech within a set timeframe or face penalties. Ministers are also looking at implementing age verification for users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The new proposals are still in the development stage and are due to be put out for consultation later this year. The new censor would also develop rules new regulations on controlling non-illegal content and online behaviour . The rules for what constitutes non-illegal content will be the subject of what is likely to be a hotly debated consultation.

BuzzFeed News has also been told ministers are looking at creating a second new censor for online advertising. Its powers would include a crackdown on online advertisements for food and soft drink products that are high in salt, fat, or sugar.

BuzzFeed News understands concerns have been raised in Whitehall that the regulation of non-illegal content will spark opposition from free speech campaigners and MPs. There are also fears internally that some of the measures being considered, including blocking websites that do not adhere to the new regulations, are so draconian that they will generate considerable opposition.

A government spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the plans would be unveiled later this year.

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Crown Prosecution ServiceThe Crown Prosecution Service has just published proposals to end obscenity prosecutions of images and videos of fisting, golden showers, squirting and bondage.The key proposed prosecution policy update:

When considering whether the content of an article is “obscene”, prosecutors
should distinguish between:

  • Content showing or realistically depicting criminal conduct (whether
    non-consensual activity, or consensual activity where serious harm is
    caused), which is likely to be obscene;
  • Content showing or realistically depicting other conduct which is lawful,
    which is unlikely to be obscene.

And there is a consultation question to ask about this new policy

Question 2 Do consultees agree or disagree with the guidance that prosecutors must exercise real caution when dealing with the moral nature of acts not criminalized by law, and that the showing or realistic depiction of sexual activity / pornography which does not constitute acts or conduct contrary to the criminal law is unlikely to be obscene?

16. The following conduct (notwithstanding previous guidance indicating otherwise) will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act:

  • Fisting
  • Activity involving bodily substances (including urine, vomit, blood and faeces)
  • Infliction of pain / torture
  • Bondage / restraint
  • Placing objects into the urethra
  • Any other sexual activity not prohibited by law

provided that:

  • It is consensual;
  • No serious harm is caused;
  • It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality; and
  • The likely audience is not under 18 or otherwise vulnerable.

More to follow after reading the document but the new policy seems to expand on the concept of obscenity to incorporate modern issues such as revenge porn, or non consensual publications eg upskirting.

Maybe this change of heart is related to a delay in age verification guidelines for the new BBFC internet porn censorship regime. It would seem very closely related.