Archive for the ‘UK Parliament’ Category

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House of Commons logo B usiness of the House

The House of Commons on 6th September

Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you will have seen the 2010 film The King’s Speech , portraying George VI. It contained 11 uses of the F-word and was granted a classification of 12A. I recently saw the highly rated documentary A Northern Soul by Hull film-maker Sean McAllister. Its main character uses the F-word 14 times and it is heard 19 times in total in the film. None of it was aggressive or gratuitous, and the film simply portrays the life of a working-class Hull man and his work helping local children, but it has been given a 15 certificate nationally. May we therefore have a debate about whether there is a class bias in the way censors seek to protect younger teenagers from the reality and language that many experience in their lives every day?

Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady raises a genuinely interesting point, and I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so she can discuss it with Ministers and then take it forward.

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House of Commons logo[The trouble with discriminatory laws such as this is that they encourage hatred of others rather than diffusing the issue. Identity politics is very aggressive. Lynch mobs gather to push for for the most severe punishments for the most trivial of transgressions. Police and the prosecuting authorities always seem to side with the complainant and the resulting injustice is noted by more or less everyone in society. It succeeds only in winding everybody up and chipping away at any remaining respect for the way that the authorities run our lives. In an equal society everybody should have exactly the same rights to be protected form the ill intent of others].

The Labour MP Stella Creasy has put forward an amendment to the upskirting bill, due to be debated in the Commons this Wednesday, that would add misogyny as an aggravating factor in England and Wales. This would enable courts to consider it when sentencing an offender and require police forces to record it.

Creasy hopes this will be the first step towards recognising misogyny as a hate crime. Creasy said:

Upskirting is a classic example of a crime in which misogyny is motivating the offence. We protect women in the workplace from discrimination on grounds of their sex, but not in the courtroom — with upskirting, street harassment, sexually based violence and abuse a part of life for so many it’s time to learn from where misogyny has been treated as a form of hate crime and end this gap.

The Guardian understands that the Law Commission, which has called for a fundamental review of all hate crime legislation, supports the spirit of Creasy’s amendment.

In Scotland, the Holyrood government will shortly launch a consultation on the reform of all aspects of hate crime legislation, after an independent report recommended including gender , as well as age, as a hate crime in law. Although the National Police Chiefs’ Council rejected a proposal to extend the policy nationwide in July, it has set up a working group to examine the issue.

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tom watsonDeputy Labour leader Tom Watson has called for the establishment of a new internet censor with  tough sanctions to police what he considers to be the wild west of the internetTom Watson has accused companies of not removing ‘fake news’ stories that are spread like wildfire saying:

Social media companies should be hit hard with fines if they fail to take down abusive content=

Watson says Britain should follow the lead of Germany, which fines social media firms up to £45million for not taking down hate speech within 24 hours. He says:

The likes of Facebook and Twitter have refused to change. Authorities worldwide don’t have the baby teeth, let alone the sharp teeth, to make them take notice. International regulatory regimes are outdated and dangerous.

He adds that the protection the firms have enjoyed as platforms rather than publishers needs to be withdrawn saying: they won’t go to the lengths they need to unless they have a legal liability.

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elspeth howeElspeth Howe, a member of the House of Lords, has written an article in the Telegraph outlining her case that the remit for the BBFC to censor internet porn sites should be widened to include a wider range of material that she does not like.This seems to tally with other recent news that the CPS is reconsidering its views on what pornographic content should be banned from publication in Britain.

Surely these debates are related to the detailed guidelines to be used by the BBFC when either banning porn sites, or else requiring them to implement strict age verification for users. It probably explains why the Telegraph recently reported that the publication of the final guidelines has been delayed until at least the autumn.


Categories of Porn

For clarity the categories of porn being discussed are as follows:

Current Proposed
offline online offline online
Softcore 18 BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Hardcore R18 BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Beyond R18
(proposal by CPS)
banned BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Cartoon Porn
(proposal by Howe))
banned BBFC uncut banned banned
Extreme porn banned banned banned banned
Child porn banned banned banned banned
  • Softcore porn rated 18 under BBFC guidelines

    – Will be allowed subject to strict age verification

  • Vanilla hardcore porn rated R18 under current BBFC guidelines

    – Will be allowed subject to strict age verification

  • Beyond R18 hardcore porn that includes material historically banned by the CPS claiming obscenity, ie fisting, golden showers, BDSM, female ejaculation, and famously from a recent anti censorship campaign, face sitting/breath play. Such material is currently cut from R18s.

    – Such content will be allowed under the current Digital Economy Act for online porn sites
    – This category is currently banned for offline sales in the UK, but the CPS has just opened a public consultation on its proposal to legalise such content, as long as it is consensual. Presumably this is related to the government’s  overarching policy: What’s illegal offline, is illegal online.

  • Extreme Porn as banned from possession in the UK under the Dangerous Pictures Act. This content covers, bestiality, necrophilia, realistic violence likely to result in serious injury, realistic rape

    – This content is illegal to possess in the UK and any websites with such content will be banned by the BBFC regardless of age verification implementation

  • Cartoon Porn depicting under 18s

    – This content is banned from possession in the UK but will be allowed online subject to age verification requirements

  • Photographic child porn

    This is already totally illegal in the UK on all media. Any foreign websites featuring such content are probably already being blocked by ISPs using lists maintained by the IWF. The BBFC will ban anything it spots that may have slipped through the net.


‘What’s illegal offline, is illegal online’

Elspeth Howe writes:

I very much welcome part three of the Digital Economy Act 2017 which requires robust age verification checks to protect children from accessing pornography. The Government deserves congratulations for bringing forward this seminal provision, due to come into effect later this year.

The Government’s achievement, however, has been sadly undermined by amendments that it introduced in the House of Lords, about which there has been precious little public debate. I very much hope that polling that I am placing in the public domain today will facilitate a rethink.

When the Digital Economy Bill was introduced in the Lords, it proposed that legal pornography should be placed behind robust age verification checks. Not surprisingly, no accommodation for either adults or children was made for illegal pornography, which encompasses violent pornography and child sex abuse images.

As the Bill passed through the Lords, however, pressure was put on the Government to allow adults to access violent pornography, after going through age-verification checks, which in other contexts it would be illegal to supply. In the end the Government bowed to this pressure and introduced amendments so that only one category of illegal pornography will not be accessible by adults.

[When  Howe mentions violent pornography she is talking about the Beyond R18 category, not the Extreme Porn category, which will be the one category mentioned that will not be accessible to adults].

The trouble with the idea of banning Beyond R18 pornography is that Britain is out of step with the rest of the world. This category includes content that is ubiquitous in most of the major porn websites in the world. Banning so much content would be simply be impractical. So rather than banning all foreign porn, the government opted to remove the prohibition of Beyond R18 porn from the original bill.

Another category that has not hitherto come to attention is the category of cartoon porn that depicts under 18s. The original law that bans possession of this content seemed most concerned about material that was near photographic, and indeed may have been processed from real photos. However the law is of most relevance in practical terms when it covers comedic Simpsons style porn, or else Japanese anime often featuring youthful, but vaguely drawn cartoon characters in sexual scenes.

Again there would be problems of practicality of banning foreign websites from carry such content. All the major tube sites seems to have a section devoted to Hentai anime porn which edges into the category.

In July 2017, Howe introduced a bill that would put Beyond R18 and Cartoon Porn back into the list of prohibited material in the Digital Economy Act. The bill is titled the Digital Economy Act 2017 (Amendment) (Definition of Extreme Pornography) Bill and is still open, but further consideration in Parliament has stalled, presumably as the Government itself is currently addressing these issues.

The bill adds in to the list of prohibitions any content that has been refused a BBFC certificate or would be refused a certificate if it were to be submitted. This would catch both the Beyond Porn and Cartoon Porn categories.

The government is very keen on its policy mantra: What’s illegal offline, is illegal online and it seems to have addressed the issue of Beyond 18 material being illegal offline but legal online. The government is proposing to relax its own obscenity rules so that Beyond R18 material will be legalised, (with the proviso that the porn is consensual). The CPS has published a public consultation with this proposal, and it should be ready for implementation after the consultation closes on 17th October 2018.

Interestingly Howe seems to have dropped the call to ban Beyond R18 material in her latest piece, so presumably she has accepted that Beyond R18 material will soon be classifiable by the BBFC, and so not an issue for her bill.
Still to be Addressed

That still leaves the category of Cartoon Porn to be addressed. The current Digital Economy Act renders it illegal offline, but legal online. Perhaps the Government has given Howe the nod to rationalise the situation by making banning the likes of Hentai. Hence Howe is initiating a bit of propaganda to support her bill.  She writes:

The polling that I am putting in the public domain specifically addresses the non-photographic child sex abuse images and is particularly interesting because it gauges the views of MPs whose detailed consideration of the Bill came before the controversial Lords amendments were made.

According to the survey, which was conducted by ComRes on behalf of CARE, a massive 71% of MPs, rising to 76% of female MPs, stated that they did not believe it was right for the Digital Economy Act to make non-photographic child sex abuse images available online to adults after age verification checks. Only 5% of MPs disagreed.

There is an opportunity to address this as part of a review in the next 18 months, but things are too serious to wait .The Government should put matters right now by adopting my very short, but very important two-clause Digital Economy Act (Amendment) (Extreme Pornography) Bill which would restore the effect of the Government’s initial prohibition of this material.

I — along with 71 per cent of MPs — urge the Government to take action to ensure that the UK’s internet does not endorse the sexual exploitation of children.

I haven’t heard of this issue being discussed before and I can’t believe that anybody has much of an opinion on the matter. Presumably therefore, the survey presented out of the blue with the questions being worded in such a way as to get the required response. Not unusual, but surely it shows that someone is making an effort to generate an issue where one didn’t exists before. Perhaps an indication that Howe’s solution is what the authorities have decreed will happen.

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dcsm fake news Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has been investigating disinformation and fake news following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and is claiming that the UK faces a democratic crisis due to the spread of pernicious views and the manipulation of personal data.In its first report it will suggest social media companies should face tighter censorship. It also proposes measures to combat election interference.

The report claims that the relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans is a threat to democracy.

The report was very critical of Facebook, which has been under increased scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Facebook has hampered our efforts to get information about their company throughout this inquiry. It is as if it thinks that the problem will go away if it does not share information about the problem, and reacts only when it is pressed, the report said.  It provided witnesses who have been unwilling or unable to give full answers to the committee’s questions.

The committee suggests:

1. Social media sites should be held responsible for harmful content on their services

Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’, claiming that they are tech companies and have no role themselves in regulating the content of their sites, the committee said.

They continually change what is and is not seen on their sites, based on algorithms and human intervention.

They reward what is most engaging, because engagement is part of their business model and their growth strategy. They have profited greatly by using this model.

The committee suggested a new category of tech company should be created, which was not necessarily a platform or a publisher but something in between.

This should establish clear legal liability for the tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platforms, the report said.

2. The rules on political campaigns should be made fit for the digital age

The committee said electoral law needed to be updated to reflect changes in campaigning techniques.

It suggested creating a public register for political advertising so that anybody can see what messages are being distributed online political advertisements should have a digital imprint stating who was responsible, as is required with printed leaflets and advertisements social media sites should be held responsible for interference in elections by malicious actors electoral fraud fines should be increased from a maximum of £20,000 to a percentage of organisations’ annual turnover

3. Technology companies should be taxed to fund education and regulation

Increased regulation of social media sites would result in more work for organisations such as the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The committee suggested a levy on tech companies should fund the expanded responsibilities of the regulators.

The money should also be spent on educational programmes and a public information campaign, to help people identify disinformation and fake news.

4. Social networks should be audited

The committee warned that fake accounts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter not only damage the user experience, but potentially defraud advertisers.

It suggested an independent authority such as the Competition and Markets Authority should audit the social networks.

It also said security mechanisms and algorithms used by social networks should be available for audit by a government regulator, to ensure they are operating responsibly.

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sky virgin logoSky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media would back the creation of an internet censor to set out a framework for internet companies in the UK, the House of Lords Communications Committee was told.The three major UK ISPs were reporting to a House of Lords’ ongoing inquiry into internet censorship. The companies’ policy heads pushed for a new censor, or the expansion of the responsibility of a current censor, to set the rules for content censorship and to better equip children using the internet amid safety concerns .

At the moment Information Commissioner’s Office has responsibility for data protection and privacy; Ofcom censors internet TV; the Advertising Standards Authority censors adverts; and the BBFC censors adult porn.

Citing a report by consultancy Communications Chambers, Sky’s Adam Kinsley said that websites and internet providers are making decisions but in a non structured way. Speaking about the current state of internet regulation, Kinsley said:

Companies are already policing their own platforms. There is no accountability of what they are doing and how they are doing it. The only bit of transparency is when they decide to do it on a global basis and at a time of their choosing. Policy makers need to understand what is happening, and at the moment they don’t have that.

The 13-strong House of Lords committee, chaired by Lord Gilbert of Panteg, launched an inquiry earlier this year to explore how the censorship of the internet should be improved. The committee will consider whether there is a need for new laws to govern internet companies. This inquiry will consider whether websites are sufficiently accountable and transparent, and whether they have adequate governance and provide behavioural standards for users.

The committee is hearing evidence from April to September 2018 and will launch a report at the end of the year.

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House of Commons logoGoogle, Facebook, YouTube and other sites would be required by law to take down extremist material within 24 hours of receiving an official complaint under an amendment put forward for inclusion in new counter-terror legislation.The Labour MP Stephen Doughty’s amendment echoes censorship laws that came into effect in Germany last year. However the effect of the German law was to enable no-questions-asked censorship of anything the government doesn’t like. Social media companies have no interest in challenging unfair censorship and find the easiest and cheapest way to comply is to err on the side of the government, and take down anything asked regardless of the merits of the case.

The counter-terrorism strategy unveiled by the home secretary, Sajid Javid, this month, said the Home Office would place a renewed emphasis on engagement with internet providers and work with the tech industry to seek more investment in technologies that automatically identify and remove terrorist content before it is accessible to all.

But Doughty, a member of the home affairs select committee, said his amendment was needed because the voluntary approach was failing. He said a wide variety of extremist content remained online despite repeated warnings.

If these companies can remove copyrighted video or music content from companies like Disney within a matter of hours, there is no excuse for them to be failing to do so for extremist material.

Doughty’s amendment would also require tech companies to proactively check content for extremist material and take it down within six hours of it being identified.

The proactive check of content alludes to the censorship machines being introduced by the EU to scan uploads for copyrighted material. The extension to detect terrorist material coupled with the erring on the side of caution approach would inevitably lead to the automatic censorship of any content even using vocabulary of terrorism, regardless of it being news reporting, satire or criticsim.