Posts Tagged ‘House of Lords’

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House of Commons logoHouse of Commons

Delegated Legislation Committee

Proposal for Designation of Age-verification Regulator

Thursday 1 February 2018

The Minister of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Margot James)

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Proposal for Designation of Age-verification Regulator.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 introduced a requirement for commercial providers of online pornography to have robust age-verification controls in place to prevent children and young people under the age of 18 from accessing pornographic material. Section 16 of the Act states that the Secretary of State may designate by notice the age-verification regulator and may specify which functions under the Act the age-verification regulator should hold. The debate will focus on two issues. I am seeking Parliament’s approval to designate the British Board of Film Classification as the age-verification regulator and approval for the BBFC to hold in this role specific functions under the Act.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

At this stage, I would normally preface my remarks with a lacerating attack on how the Government are acquiescing in our place in the world as a cyber also-ran, and I would attack them for their rather desultory position and attitude to delivering a world-class digital trust regime. However, I am very fortunate that this morning the Secretary of State has made the arguments for me. This morning, before the Minister arrived, the Secretary of State launched his new app, Matt Hancock MP. It does not require email verification, so people are already posting hardcore pornography on it. When the Minister winds up, she might just tell us whether the age-verification regulator that she has proposed, and that we will approve this morning, will oversee the app of the Secretary of State as well.

Question put and agreed to.

House of Lords

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house of lords red logoParticulars of Proposed Designation of Age-Verification Regulator

01 February 2018

Motion to Approve moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde

Section 16 of the Digital Economy Act states that the Secretary of State may designate by notice the age-verification regulator, and may specify which functions under the Act the age-verification regulator should hold. I am therefore seeking this House’s approval to designate the British Board of Film Classification as the age-verification regulator. We believe that the BBFC is best placed to carry out this important role, because it has unparalleled expertise in this area.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)

I still argue, and I will continue to argue, that it is not appropriate for the Government to give statutory powers to a body that is essentially a private company. The BBFC is, as I have said before204I do not want to go into any detail — a company limited by guarantee. It is therefore a profit-seeking organisation. It is not a charity or body that is there for the public good. It was set up purely as a protectionist measure to try to make sure that people responsible for producing films that were covered by a licensing regime in local authorities that was aggressive towards certain types of films204it was variable and therefore not good for business204could be protected by a system that was largely undertaken voluntarily. It was run by the motion picture production industry for itself.

 L ord Ashton of Hyde

I will just say that the BBFC is set up as an independent non-governmental body with a corporate structure, but it is a not-for-profit corporate structure. We have agreed funding arrangements for the BBFC for the purposes of the age-verification regulator. The funding is ring-fenced for this function. We have agreed a set-up cost of just under £1 million and a running cost of £800,000 for the first year. No other sources of funding will be required to carry out this work, so there is absolutely no question of influence from industry organisations, as there is for its existing work—it will be ring-fenced.

Motion agreed.

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house of lords red logoTheresa May today vowed to overturn a disgraceful bid by peers to muzzle the press.The House of Lords yesterday voted to force the vast majority of papers – including the struggling local press – to pay all legal costs in data protection cases even if they win.

Peers voted by 211 votes to 200, a majority of only 11, to introduce the new legal fees costs on the media.

Critics have pointed out that it will hamper the media’s ability to investigate wrongdoing and corruption as criminals could drag the press through expensive courts without having to pay a penny themselves.

The PM said:

I think that the impact of this vote would undermine high-quality journalism and a free press.

I think it would particularly have a negative impact on local newspapers, which are an important underpinning of our democracy.

I believe passionately in a free press. We want to have a free press that is able to hold politicians and others to account and we will certainly be looking to overturn this vote in the House of Commons.

The Lords also voted by 238 votes to 209 for a new probe effectively mirroring the second part of the Leveson inquiry. This also attempts to punish the press by denying them justice by making them pay regardless of the merits of the case.

New Culture Secretary Matt Hancock also weighed in against the lords saying that the proposed changes would be a hammer blow to the local press and made clear he would seek to overturn the changes in the elected House of Commons

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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 logo Elspeth Howe’s Online Safety Bill has passed its committee stage in the House of Lords.The Bill to impose the ISP filtering on all UK ISPS, to require robust age verification for adult websites and to extended this to overseas sites, was widely praised by peers. However the government noted that it would be introducing its own bill to cover these areas next year and would not therefore be supporting Howe’s bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Joanna Shields) summarised the government’s position:

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, and I state one more time that there is no ambiguity about the Government’s commitment to launch the consultation shortly after the new year, and to provide for a robust age verification system to ensure that no one under the age of 18 can access pornographic material in the UK. It is a process that has been going on. We have been seeking advice from experts since the manifesto commitment was announced and we are consulting early in the new year. We are 100% committed to that.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his contributions and for his extraordinary work in leading the development of solutions that will in fact achieve our goal. Many elements of the Bill are incredibly well thought-out and well intentioned, and they will be taken on board in the resulting legislative approach that we take in the new year. This is about timing. This clause requires that the Secretary of State must identify a licensing authority for non UK-based pornographic services, and the noble Baroness’s amendment to the clause specifies that the Secretary of State needs a second independent body to conduct appeals. It is a very good suggestion, but it is a bit premature until we finish the consultation.

Regarding the Ofcom/ATVOD role, there is some confusion about the function of ATVOD continuing, but following an Ofcom review, it was publicly announced in October that from January next year Ofcom will take sole responsibility for regulating video on-demand programme services. As a result, it will not continue its co-regulatory arrangement with ATVOD. Let us be clear on this: it is continuing with the function and the obligation of ATVOD, but that is being brought into the Ofcom portfolio.

Earlier in the debate, The Earl of Erroll made an interesting contribution by that privacy implications mean that the age verification approach used by the gambling industry is not applicable to porn sites.

Lord Framlingham:

I am sorry to keep picking the noble Earl’s brain, but for the purposes of today’s debate, is there any intrinsic difference between the gambling industry and the pornography industry?

The Earl of Erroll:

Yes, there is, interestingly enough. It is to do with the law. Because of anti-money laundering, the gambling industry has to do client checks; it has to behave almost as if it were a bank. As a result, companies have to be able to prove the identity of the person. For various social reasons, it is felt that it is unfair for people to have to declare their identity publicly if they are looking at adult content which it is perfectly legal to watch, or buying alcohol and so on. For instance, if a Muslim buys alcohol and the mosque gets to know about it because their identity had to be declared and retained publicly, they might suffer greatly. Equally, if a Cabinet Minister happens to view some pornography or adult material, that is perfectly legal but, if certain newspapers were to find out, the Minister’s career would be destroyed overnight. This is the challenge and the difference. We have to remember that this stuff is legal for the over-18s, but there are social pressures and public opinion, which we may or may not agree with, so I think that we have to protect people’s privacy.

Lord Framlingham:

I am sorry to ask again. The example that has been given mentions embarrassment, but it is not technically illegal.

The Earl of Erroll:

The example I have given is one that is career-destroying. The knock-on effect of that could involve all sorts of family repercussions to do with children in school because Daddy or Mummy has just had their career destroyed. We sometimes forget the effect on a family as the result of something that, while it may be regarded by some as socially unacceptable, is perfectly legal. We need to think about that at the parliamentary level.

The bill now moves on to the House of Lords report stage which has not yet been scheduled.

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elspeth howe The Consumer Rights Bill is progressing through Parliament is currently at the report stage in the house of Lords. It will next be debated on 24th November.Elspeth Howe has again proposed her clause requiring age verification for adult content. It has been kicked out several times in the past as the government recognises the need to work with the telecoms industry rather than impose onerous new laws (of course the government hasn’t shown the same pragmatic approach to the adult internet industry).

The new clause was proposed by Baroness Elspeth Howe, Baroness King, Lord Cormack and Baroness Floella Benjamin. It is titled amendment 50D.

“Duty to provide an internet service that protects children from digital content

(1)     Internet service providers must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.

(2)     Where mobile telephone operators provide a telephone service to subscribers which includes an internet access service, they must ensure this service excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.

(3)     The conditions are–

(a)   the subscriber “opts-in” to subscribe to a service that includes adult content;

(b)   the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and

(c)   the provider of the service has an age verification policy which meets the standards set out by OFCOM in subsection (4) and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over before a user is able to access adult content.

(4)     It shall be the duty of OFCOM, to set, and from time to time to review and revise, standards for the–

(a)   filtering of adult content in line with the standards set out in section 319 of the Communications Act 2003 (OFCOM’s standards code);

(b)   age verification policies to be used under subsection (3) before a user is able to access adult content; and

(c)   filtering of content by age or subject category by providers of internet access services and mobile phone operators.

(5)     The standards set out by OFCOM under subsection (4) must be contained in one or more codes.

(6)     Before setting standards under subsection (5), OFCOM must publish, in such a manner as they think fit, a draft of the proposed code containing those standards.

(7)     After publishing the draft code and before setting the standards, OFCOM must consult relevant persons and organisations.

(8)     It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish procedures for the handling and resolution of complaints in a timely manner about the observance of standards set under subsection (4), including complaints about incorrect filtering of content.

(9)     OFCOM may designate any body corporate to carry out its duties under this section in whole or in part.

(10)     OFCOM may not designate a body under subsection (9) unless, as respects that designation, they are satisfied that the body–

(a)   is a fit and proper body to be designated;

(b)   has consented to being designated;

(c)   has access to financial resources that are adequate to ensure the effective performance of its functions under this section; and

(d)   is sufficiently independent of providers of internet access services and mobile phone operators.

(11)     In this section, internet service providers and mobile telephone operators shall at all times be held harmless of any claims or proceedings, whether civil or criminal, providing that at the relevant time, the internet access provider or the mobile telephone operator–

(a)   was following the standards and code set out by OFCOM in subsection (4); and

(b)   acting in good faith.

(12)     For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in subsections (1) and (2) prevents providers of internet access services and mobile phone operators from providing additional levels of filtering content.

(13)     In this section–

“adult content” means an internet access service that contains harmful and offensive materials from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected;

“harmful and offensive materials” has the same meaning as in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 (general duties of OFCOM);

“material from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected” means material specified in the OFCOM standards under section 319(2)(a) of the Communications Act 2003 (OFCOM’s standards code);

“opts-in” means a subscriber notifies the service provider of his or her consent to subscribe to a service that includes adult content.”

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House of Lords logo Online Safety Bill [HL] As introduced in the House of Lords on 10th June 2014 [HL Bill 16]

BACKGROUND 1. The objective of this Bill is to reduce the ability for children and young people to access inappropriate material online and through video on-demand.

2. Part 1 of the Bill takes a three pronged approach to extending online safety measures:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone operators (MPOs) would by default provide an Internet service without access to adult content, with adult subscribers able to opt-in to receive such material;
  • Electronic device manufacturers would provide a means of filtering Internet content at the time of purchase; and
  • ISPs/MPOs would make available information about online safety and schools would educate parents about online safety.

3. Part 2 of the Bill addresses the protections for on-demand programme services:

  • Within the UK, requiring access controls for programmes that are equivalent to an “18” rating or greater; and
  • In relation to soft and hard-core pornography provided from websites based overseas, providing the Authority for Television on Demand ATVOD the power to direct credit card companies to cease transactions if the services are not provided with suitable age verification.

COMMENTARY Clause 1: Duty to provide a service that excludes adult content

4. Subsection (1) requires all ISPs to provide an Internet service that excludes adult content, unless a subscriber opts-in and meets the criteria set out in subsection (3). The Bill aims to block “adult content” at the network level — that is the material coming into a home or to a phone unless a subscriber specifically unblocks that content.

5 . Subsection (2) requires all MPOs who provide an Internet service as part of their telephone service to exclude adult content from that service, unless a subscriber opts in and meets the criteria set out in subsection (3). It would standardise the way MPOs deal with customers accessing adult content.

6.Adult content is defined in clause 6 as containing “harmful and offensive material from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected” where:

  • “harmful and offensive materials” has the same meaning as in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003;
  • “material from which persons under the age of eighteen are protected” means material specified in the Ofcom standards under section 319(2)(a) of the Communications Act 2003.

7. Subsection (3) sets out the three conditions whereby a subscriber may receive adult content as part of their Internet service. They must “opt-in” to receive adult content, be 18 or over; and have their age verified by the service provider’s age verification scheme, which meets the standards set in section 2 on age verification schemes before a subscriber can access adult content. “Opts-in” is defined in subsection (5) .

8. Subsection (4) prevents ISPs and MPOs from being sued should material be accessible or not accessible on the basis of actions taken to comply with section 1, as long as they were following the standards and code set out in clause 2 and acting in good faith.

9. Subsection (6) makes clear that the ISPs can implement additional filtering levels on top of the requirement to offer an internet service without adult content.

Clause 2: Role of Ofcom 10. Clause 2 gives Ofcom a new responsibility to set standards in this area of media consumption. Subsection (1) requires Ofcom to set standards on filtering of adult content and age verification schemes and any other filtering schemes that are operated by ISPs or MPOs. The standards should be reviewed and revised from time to time.

11. Subsection (2) requires the standards set under subsection (1) to be set out in one or more codes of practice.

12. Subsection (3) requires a draft code of standards to be published.

13. Subsection (4) requires there to be a consultation on the draft code with relevant people/organisations.

14. Subsection (5) requires Ofcom to establish a process for handling and resolution of complaints regarding the standards in this section.

15. Subsection (6) requires Ofcom to prepare a report to the Secretary of State about the operation of this Act every three years and at the direction of the Secretary of State.

16. Subsection (7) allows Ofcom to delegate the functions in this section to another corporate body either in whole or in part.

17. Subsection (8) sets out brief criteria for who can be a designated body.

Clause 3 : Duty to provide a means of filtering content 18. Clause 3 requires manufacturers of electronic devices that are capable of internet access to provide a means of filtering content at the time of purchase at an age appropriate level, so that parents are able to choose which material they wish to exclude.

19. The requirement does not anticipate on-going support from the manufacturer after purchase, nor does it set out how the filtering must take place: each type of device can be different.

Clause 4 : Duty to provide information about online safety 20. Clause 4 requires ISPs and MPOs to provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information about online safety to customers at the time of the purchase of a service and to make such information available for the duration of the service, e.g. it could contain information for parents about safe use of social networking sites.

Clause 5: Duty to educate parents about online safety 21. Clause 5 sets out a duty of the Secretary of State for Education to provide means of educating parents of children under the age of 18 about three areas:

a. the opt-in arrangements under section 1 to ensure that children do not access adult content ( paragraph a );

b. other options for online safety for electronic devices, such as filters ( paragraph b ) ;

c. protecting child from other online behaviours that could be a safety risk, such as bullying and sexual grooming (paragraph c).

Clause 6: Interpretation of Part 1 22. Clause 6 sets out the interpretation of phrases in Part 1 the Bill.

Clause 7 : Age verification scheme 23. Clause 7 amends section 368E(2) of the Communications Act 2003, as introduced by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 , implementing the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2009. Section 368E(2) currently says that an on-demand programme service that contains any material which might “seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of a child” must be made available so that a child will not see or hear it.

24. This clause extends this provision in two ways:

a. stating that the system of access controls must include an age verification scheme; and

b. requiring the access controls to apply to an on-demand programme service which contains harmful and offensive material from which persons under the age of eighteen are to be protected, i.e. to material equivalent to “18” category material.

Clause 8 : Prevention of payments 25. Clause 8 introduces a new power into the Communication Act 2003 to allow the appropriate regulatory authority (in this case ATVOD, The Authority for Television on Demand) to direct a financial institution to prevent payments to a body which does not prevent access to material that comes under section 368(2) of the Communications Act 2003. The model is based on how the law deals with terrorist financing and money laundering in Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. It allows ATVOD to give a direction regardless of where the company is operating.

Clause 9 : Extent , commencement and short title 26. Clause 9 sets out that the Act will come into force six months after Royal Assent and apply across the UK, in the same way as the Communications Act 2003 and the Digital Economy Act 2010. The Act would extend to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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House of Lords logoThe House of Lords’ Communications Committee are looking for ‘voluntary’ participation in Ofcom’s content regulation, but these kinds of voluntary arrangement are rarely truly voluntary. Usually the government threatens legislation if the required ‘volunteering’ doesn’t take place.

These are the key paragraphs from the House of Lords Communications Committee recommendations :

204.  Ofcom should investigate the option of non-broadcast providers of TV-like services, such as Netflix and the content providers mentioned in Box 1, being invited to comply with an appropriate set of standards (the Broadcasting Code suitably amended for their environment) in return for some form of public recognition or kitemark. (Para 53)

211.  We urge the Government to ensure that cooperation on the regulation of converging media content, such as the category of TV and TV-like material, is included as part of the discussions between the EU and the US about the establishment of a free trade agreement. (Para 94)

221.  Specifically, Ofcom should be required, in dialogue with UK citizens and key industry players, to establish and publish on a regular basis the UK public’s expectations of major digital intermediaries such as ISPs and other digital gateways, specifically with regard to protecting UK audiences and their families when accessing content through digital intermediaries’ services, covering for example:

  • The scope of their responsibilities (given they are not always in direct control of the content to which they provide access);
  • Appropriate processes for receiving complaints and subsequent redress;
  • Any specific measures, such as access controls, content classification systems, or other actions which the UK public might expect them to take in protecting children from harmful material. (Para 141)