Archive for the ‘UK Parliament’ Category

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home affairs committee Digital ID was discussed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on 13th November 2018.

Carol Monaghan Committee Member:  At the moment, platforms such as Facebook require age verification, but that simply means entering a date of birth, and children can change that. If you are planning to extend that, or look at how it might apply to other social media, how confident are you that the age verification processes would be robust enough to cope?

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries: At the moment, I do not think that we would be, but age verification tools and techniques are developing at pace, and we keep abreast of developments. At the moment , we think we have a robust means by which to verify people’s age at 18; the challenge is to develop tools that can verify people’s age at a younger age, such as 13. Those techniques are not robust enough yet, but a lot of technological research is going on, and I am reasonably confident that, over the next few years, there will be robust means by which to identify age at younger than 18.

Stephen Metcalfe Committee Member: My question is on the same point about how we can create a verification system that you cannot just get around by putting in a fake date of birth. I assume that the verification for 18 – plus is based around some sort of credit card, or some sort of bank card. The issue there is that, potentially, someone could borrow another person’s card, because it does not require secret information–it requires just the entering of the 16-digit number, or something. But on the younger ages, given that we are talking about digital life and digital literacy, do you think that the time has come to talk about having a digital verified ID that young people get and which you cannot fiddle with–a bit like an online ID card, or digital passport? I know that that idea has been around a little while.

Margot James: It has. I do think that the time has come when that is required, but there are considerable hoops to go through before we can arrive at a system of digital identity, including someone’s age, that is acknowledged, respected and entered into by the vast majority of people. As you probably know, the Government have committed in prior years to the Verify system, which we think has got as far as it can go, which is not far enough. We have a team of excellent policy officials in the DCMS looking afresh at other techniques of digital identity. It is a live issue and there have been many attempts at it; there is frustration, and not everybody would agree with what I have said. But you asked my view, and that is it–and the Department is focusing a lot of energy on that area of research.

Chair: Can you imagine that your legislation, when it comes, could include the concept, to which Stephen referred, of a digital identity for children?

Margot James: That is a long way off–or it is not next year, and probably not the year after, given how much consultation it would require. The new work has only just started, so it is not a short-term solution, and I do not expect to see it as part of our White Paper that we publish this winter. That does not mean to say that we do not think that it is important; we are working towards getting a system that we think could have public support.

To go slightly beyond the terms of your inquiry, with regard to the potential for delivering a proper digital relationship between citizen and G overnment through delivery of public services, a digital identity system will be important. We feel that public service delivery has a huge amount to gain from the digital solution.

Bill Grant Committee Member:: I am pleased to note that the Government are addressing issues that have been with us for nearly a decade–the dark side of social media and the risk to children, not least the risk that we all experience as parliamentarians. Can you offer any reason why it has taken so long for Government to begin that process? Would you be minded to accelerate the process to address the belated start?

Margot James: One reason is that progress has been made by working with technology companies. The Home Office has had considerable success in working with technology companies to eradicate terrorist content online. To a lesser but still significant extent, progress has also been made on a voluntary basis with the reduction in child abuse images and child sexual exploitation. I said “significant , ” but this is a Home Office area–I am working closely with the Home Office, because the White Paper is being developed in concert with it–and it is clear that it does not feel that anything like enough is being done through voluntary measures.

Chair: Do you feel that?

Margot James: Yes, I do. A lot of the highly dangerous material has gone under the radar in the dark web, but too much material is still available, apparently, on various platforms, and it takes them too long to remove it.

Chair: Ultimately, the voluntary approach is not working adequately.

Margot James: Exactly–that is our view now. I was trying to address the hon. Member’s question about why it had taken a long time. Partly it is that technology changes very fast , but, partly, it is because voluntary engagement was delivering, but it has impressed itself on us in the last 12 months that it is not delivering fast enough or adequately. We have not even talked about the vast range of other harms, some of which are illegal and some legal but harmful, and some in the grey area in between, where decidedly inadequate progress has been made as a result of the many instances of voluntary engagement, not just between the Government and the technology sector but between charitable organisations and non-governmental organisations, including the police.

Bill Grant: It was envisaged earlier that there would be some sort of regulator or ombudsman, but , over and above that , Martha Lane Fox’s think – tank proposed the establishment of an office for responsible technology, which would be overarching, in whatever form the regulation comes. Would you be minded to take that on board?

Margot James: That is one proposal that we will certainly look at, yes. Martha Lane Fox does a lot of very good work in this area, has many years’ experience of it, and runs a very good organisation in the “tech for good” environment, so her proposals are well worth consideration. That is one reason why I was unable to give a specific answer earlier, because there are good ideas, and they all need proper evaluation. When the White Paper is published, we will engage with you and any other interested party , and invite other organisations to contribute to our thinking, prior to the final legislation being put before Parliament and firming up the non-legislative measures, which are crucial. We all know that legislation does not solve every ill, and it is crucial that we continue the very good work being done by many internet companies to improve the overall environment.

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house of lords red logo Pornographic Websites: Age Verification – Question

House of Lords on 5th November 2018 .

Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty ‘s Government what will be the commencement date for their plans to ensure that age-verification to prevent children accessing pornographic websites is implemented by the British Board of Film Classification .

Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, we are now in the final stages of the process, and we have laid the BBFC ‘s draft guidance and the Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations before Parliament for approval. We will ensure that there is a sufficient period following parliamentary approval for the public and the industry to prepare for age verification. Once parliamentary proceedings have concluded, we will set a date by which commercial pornography websites will need to be compliant, following an implementation window. We expect that this date will be early in the new year.

Baroness Benjamin

I thank the Minister for his Answer. I cannot wait for that date to happen, but does he share my disgust and horror that social media companies such as Twitter state that their minimum age for membership is 13 yet make no attempt to restrict some of the most gross forms of pornography being exchanged via their platforms? Unfortunately, the Digital Economy Act does not affect these companies because they are not predominantly commercial porn publishers. Does he agree that the BBFC needs to develop mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of the legislation for restricting children’s access to pornography via social media sites and put a stop to this unacceptable behaviour?

Lord Ashton of Hyde

My Lords, I agree that there are areas of concern on social media sites. As the noble Baroness rightly says, they are not covered by the Digital Economy Act . We had many hours of discussion about that in this House. However, she will be aware that we are producing an online harms White Paper in the winter in which some of these issues will be considered. If necessary, legislation will be brought forward to address these, and not only these but other harms too. I agree that the BBFC should find out about the effectiveness of the limited amount that age verification can do; it will commission research on that. Also, the Digital Economy Act itself made sure that the Secretary of State must review its effectiveness within 12 to 18 months.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, once again I find this issue raising a dynamic that we became familiar with in the only too recent past. The Government are to be congratulated on getting the Act on to the statute book and, indeed, on taking measures to identify a regulator as well as to indicate that secondary legislation will be brought forward to implement a number of the provisions of the Act. My worry is that, under one section of the Digital Economy Act , financial penalties can be imposed on those who infringe this need; the Government seem to have decided not to bring that provision into force at this time. I believe I can anticipate the Minister ‘s answer but–in view of the little drama we had last week over fixed-odds betting machines–we would not want the Government, having won our applause in this way, to slip back into putting things off or modifying things away from the position that we had all agreed we wanted.

Lord Ashton of Hyde

My Lords, I completely understand where the noble Lord is coming from but what he said is not quite right. The Digital Economy Act included a power that the Government could bring enforcement with financial penalties through a regulator. However, they decided–and this House decided–not to use that for the time being. For the moment, the regulator will act in a different way. But later on, if necessary, the Secretary of State could exercise that power. On timing and FOBTs, we thought carefully–as noble Lords can imagine–before we said that we expect the date will be early in the new year,

Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that good health and sex education might be a way to counter some of the damaging effects? Can the Government make sure that is in place as soon as possible, so that this strange fantasy world is made slightly more real?

Lord Ashton of Hyde

The noble Lord is of course right that age verification itself is not the only answer. It does not cover every possibility of getting on to a pornography site. However, it is the first attempt of its kind in the world, which is why not only we but many other countries are looking at it. I agree that sex education in schools is very important and I believe it is being brought into the national curriculum already.

The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

Why is there so much wriggle room in section 6 of the guidance from the DCMS to the AV regulator? The ISP blocking probably will not work, because everyone will just get out of it. If we bring this into disrepute then the good guys, who would like to comply, probably will not; they will not be able to do so economically. All that was covered in British Standard PAS 1296, which was developed over three years. It seems to have been totally ignored by the DCMS. You have spent an awful lot of time getting there, but you have not got there.

Lord Ashton of Hyde

One of the reasons this has taken so long is that it is complicated. We in the DCMS , and many others, not least in this House, have spent a long time discussing the best way of achieving this. I am not immediately familiar with exactly what section 6 says, but when the statutory instrument comes before this House–it is an affirmative one to be discussed–I will have the answer ready for the noble Earl.

Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the possession of a biometric card by the population would make the implementation of things such as this very much easier?

Lord Ashton of Hyde

In some ways it would, but there are problems with people who either do not want to or cannot have biometric cards.

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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.