Archive for the ‘UK Parliament’ Category

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house of lords red logoThe Daily Mail explains that criminals and corrupt politicians and businessmen could escape exposure under a new attempt to restrict Press freedom.A fresh bid to restrict the rights of journalists and the media to inquire into crime and corruption involves attempts to change a data law that is going through Parliament.

One Labour amendment to the Data Protection Bill would mean that the Information Commissioner would have powers to decide whether codes of conduct under which journalists work should be recognised by the new law.

A second amendment would rewrite the new law so that the unjust censorship powers suggested in the second half of the Leveson inquiry into Press standards would go ahead.

Currently the proposed legislation provides an exemption for journalists who access and store personal information without consent when exposing wrongdoing. This means that individuals under investigation by journalists would not be able to interfere with their inquiries or block publication of stories that would bring to light wrongdoing.

However a series of attempts have been made to introduce changes to the Bill which would remove safeguards for freedom of expression, bind journalists and make their inquiries either difficult or impossible.

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house of lords red logoCriminals, corrupt business leaders and cheating MPs could avoid being exposed under a fresh assault on Press freedom.Amendments to the Data Protection Bill going through Parliament would make it easier for the rich and powerful to escape being held to account.

Tabled by Tory peer John Attlee and crossbencher Shiela Hollins, the changes would make it harder to carry out investigative journalism and protect the identity of sources who reveal wrongdoing.

They would affect all publications, from national newspapers and broadcasters including the BBC, to small community newspapers, charities and think-tanks.

Critics also fear that a second raft of amendments is being used as a backdoor route to force publishers to join the injust regulator Impress, which depends on money from the former Formula One boss Max Mosley.

The latest moves threaten 300 years of Press freedom by undermining the principle that journalists have the right to print whatever information they believe is in the public interest, and only answer for it to the courts afterward.

Last night Lord Grade, a former chairman of the BBC and ITV, said: Any legislative move that restricts a journalist’s legitimate inquiries should be opposed. The current laws and codes of conduct are sufficient to protect people from unwarranted intrusion and exposure.

Under the existing Bill, as proposed by the Government, the exemption for journalists depends on whether their reporting is in the public interest, as defined by the Ofcom code, the BBC editorial guidelines or the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Editors’ Code of Practice. But some peers want to remove Ipso from the legislation and replace it with the injust press censor Impress, which covers only a handful of hyper-local publications and blogs.

Robert Skidelsky, one of the peers seeking to have Impress’s code of practice recognised in the Bill, is a close friend of Max Mosley.

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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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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?

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ruth smeethIt is a bit of a fad to berate the social networks for passing on ‘fake news’ and other user posts deemed harmful to politicians and their jobs.Although introduced last year, a nonsense private members bill is now getting a bit of attention for its proposals to demand that social media censors its users posts.

Labour MP Anna Turley’s Malicious Communications (Social Media) Bill, calls for media censor Ofcom to impose fines up to £2 million for social networks who don’t adequately prevent threatening content appearing on their services.

The bill would see social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and likely include apps like Snapchat and Instagram, to be added to a register of regulated platforms by the Secretary of State.

If the bill is passed into law, the companies on the list would be required to implement some sort of age verification blocking system akin to ISP blocking where over verified 18s could opt out of the content blocking.

The core of the bill as follows:

1 Requirements on operators of regulated social media platforms

(1) Operators of social media platforms on the register of regulated social media
platforms in section 5 (1) must have in place reasonable means to prevent
threatening content from being received by users of their service in the United
5 Kingdom during normal use of the service when the users–

(a) access the platforms, and

(b) have not requested the operator to allow the user to use the service
without filtering of threatening content.

(2) Operators must not activate an unfiltered service when requested by the user,
10 unless–

(a) the user has registered as over 18 years of age, and

(b) the request includes an age verification mechanism.

(3) In implementing an age verification mechanism operators must follow
guidance published by the age verification regulator.

(4) 15 In subsection (3), “age verification regulator” has the meaning given by section
17 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.

2 Duties of OFCOM

(1) OFCOM must assist, on request, the Secretary of State to meet his or her duties
in respect of the register of regulated social media platforms.

(2) 20 It shall be the duty of OFCOM to monitor and assess the performance of the
operators of regulated social media platforms in meeting the requirements of
section 1.

3) In order to assess the adequacy of the arrangements of an operator of a
regulated social media platform to meet the requirements of section 1, OFCOM
may —

(a) survey the content of the social media platform, and

(b) 5 derive quantitative data from the operator.

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Culture, Media and Sport select committeeParliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said it would investigate the establishment’s concerns about the public being supposedly swayed by propaganda and untruths.The inquiry will examine the sources of fake news, how it is spread and its impact on democracy. Damian Collins, the committee chairman, said the rise of propaganda and fabrications is:

A threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general.  Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the spreading of fake news on social media platforms, he said.

Consumers should also be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news stories they read online.

The committee will be investigating these issues as well as looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it and how it has been used around elections and other important political debates.

The MPs want to investigate whether the way advertising is bought, sold and placed online has encouraged the growth of fake news. They also want to address the responsibility of search engines and social media to stop spreading it.

New research suggests that online hoaxes and propaganda may have only had limited impact in the US presidential election, however. According to a study by two US economists, fake news which favoured Donald Trump was shared 30 million times in the three months before the election, four times more than false stories favouring Hillary Clinton. But the authors said that only half of people who saw a false story believed it, and even the most widely circulated hoaxes were seen by only a fraction of voters.