Archive for the ‘UK Parliament’ Category

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house of lords red logo On Tuesday the House of Lords approved the BBFC’s scheme to implement internet porn censorship in the UK. Approval will now be sought from the House of Commons.

The debate in the Lords mentioned a few issues in passing but they seemed to be avoiding taking about some of the horrors of the scheme.

The Digital Economy Act defining the law behind the scheme offers no legal requirement for age verification providers to restrict how they can use porn viewers data. Lords mentioned that it is protected under the GDPR rules but these rules still let companies do whatever they like with data, just with the proviso that they ask for consent. But of course the consent is pretty mandatory to sign up for age verification, and some of the biggest internet companies in the world have set the precedent they can explain wide ranging usage of the data claiming it will be used say to improve customer experience.

Even if the lords didn’t push very hard, people at the DCMS or BBFC have been considering this deficiency, and have come up with the idea that data use should be voluntarily restricted according to a kite mark scheme. Age verification schemes will have their privacy protections audited by some independent group and if they pass they can display a gold star. Porn viewers are then expected to trust age verification schemes with a gold star. But unfortunately it sounds a little like the sort of process that decided that cladding was safe for high rise blocks of flats.

The lords were much more concerned about the age verification requirements for social media and search engines, notably Twitter and Google Images. Clearly age verification schemes required for checking that users are 13 or 18 will be very different from an 18 only check, and will be technically very different. So the Government explained that these wider issues will be addressed in a new censorship white paper to be published in 2019.

The lords were also a bit perturbed that the definition of banned material wasn’t wide enough for their own preferences. Under the current scheme the BBFC will be expected to ban totally any websites with child porn or extreme porn. The lords wondered why this wasn’t extended to cartoon porn and beyond R18 porn, presumably thinking of fisting, golden showers and the like. However in reality if the definition of bannable porn was extended, then every major porn website in the word would have to be banned by the BBFC. And anyway the government is changing its censorship rules such that fisting and golden showers are, or will soon be, allowable at R18 anyway.

The debate revealed that the banks and payment providers have already agreed to ban payments to websites banned by the BBFC. The government also confirmed its intention to get the scheme up and running by April. Saying that, it would seem a little unfair for the website’s 3 month implementation period to be set running before their age verification options are accredited with their gold stars. Otherwise some websites would waste time and money implementing schemes that may later be declared unacceptable.

Next a motion to approve draft legislation over the UK’s age-verification regulations will be debated in the House of Commons. Stephen Winyard, AVSecure s chief marketing officer, told XBIZ:

We are particularly pleased that the prime minister is set to approve the draft guidance for the age-verification law on Monday. From this, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will issue the effective start date and that will be around Easter.

But maybe the prime minister has a few more urgent issues on her mind at the moment.

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home affairs committee Parliament’s fake news inquiry has published a cache of seized Facebook documents including internal emails sent between Mark Zuckerberg and the social network’s staff. The emails were obtained from the chief of a software firm that is suing the tech giant. About 250 pages have been published, some of which are marked highly confidential.

Facebook had objected to their release.

Damian Collins MP, the chair of the parliamentary committee involved, highlighted several key issues in an introductory note. He wrote that:

  • Facebook allowed some companies to maintain “full access” to users’ friends data even after announcing changes to its platform in 2014/2015 to limit what developers’ could see. “It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted,” Mr Collins wrote
  • Facebook had been aware that an update to its Android app that let it collect records of users’ calls and texts would be controversial. “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard as possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features,” Mr Collins wrote
  • Facebook used data provided by the Israeli analytics firm Onavo to determine which other mobile apps were being downloaded and used by the public. It then used this knowledge to decide which apps to acquire or otherwise treat as a threat
  • there was evidence that Facebook’s refusal to share data with some apps caused them to fail
  • there had been much discussion of the financial value of providing access to friends’ data

In response, Facebook has said that the documents had been presented in a very misleading manner and required additional context.

See Mark Zuckerberg’s response on Facebook

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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.